With the help of Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association, the Fisheries Department and the Nature Conservancy, a group of fishers are exploring the economic benefits of seaweed farming.  About a dozen fishers are part of a pilot project to farm and harvest seaweed. Their farms are located a few miles out of Mauger Caye which forms part of Turneffe Atoll. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo takes a closer look at the fishers’ venture.

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

The second largest aquaculture industry in the world is said to be seaweed with a global production of more than seventeen million metric tons. In Belize, the production of seaweed is done on a smaller scale. Groups like the Placencia Fisherman Cooperative have been farming seaweed for quite some time even though the amount produced is just a drop in the global bucket. The Belize Fisheries Department, the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA) and The Nature Conservancy have joined efforts and resources to pilot a seaweed farming project off Mauger Caye in the Turneffe Atoll which is expected to benefit about a dozen fishers.

Eliseo Cobb, Operations Manager, T.A.S.A.

“With this project we hope that we could be able to involve as many fishers as possible but at this stage of this seaweed farming project at Turneffe we are looking at four fishing camps but it is not just four individual fishers. It is a group of fishers that fish within that camp. We are looking at an average of three to four fishers per camp so we are looking at twelve fishers more or less.”

TASA’s acting Operations Manager, Eliseo Cobb says that as part of the initiative, the fishers are being trained in best farming practices to produce a high-quality product in a substantial amount. Observing the seaweed floating effortless, one would think that farming seaweed is an easy task but according to Cobb, there are specific guidelines that farmers are advised to employ.

Eliseo Cobb

“We have to look at the design of the raft. Also, you have to look at the selection of the seed bank.  These seed banks that we have here, those are coming from Placencia. So all of that has to be taken into consideration of the select the proper seedlings so that you could have better quality and better biomass for the production of the byproducts of the seaweed. Selection of the seeds, the designs of the raft, you have to take into consideration the environmental conditions, if there is a proper current flow, the proper nutrients in the water and also you would be monitoring those conditions throughout the project implementation.”

The aim of the project is twofold, to provide fishers with an alternative source of income while reducing the fishing pressure on key commercial species such as conchs, lobsters and fin fishes at Turneffe.

Eliseo Cobb

“Some fishers like you said putting aside fishing some of them might see it that way but some of them might see it as an additional source of income. There is a lot of fishing pressure within the two key commercial species, conchs, and lobsters and definitely, throughout the year there is a slow season. So we are targeting those time of years that the fishers could do something else and not really increase or continue to add to that fishing pressure.”

TASA is exploring the export market for seaweed and its byproduct. Hipolito Novelo, News Five.

Channel 5