Agreement signed between the Government of Belize, the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries, and Oceana to Support Gillnet Fishers to Transition to Alternative Means
In a demonstration of its commitment to sustainable fishing, Dr. Hon. Omar Figueroa, Minister of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development, for and on behalf of the Government of Belize, today entered into an agreement with the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and Oceana.
The agreement will see support rendered to gillnet fishers to transition to alternative income-generating opportunities and to support the voluntary surrender of gillnets. With a successful transition programme in place, the planned phase-out will proceed with the aim of banning the use of gillnets in Belize’s marine territory and Exclusive Economic Zone.
This collaborative agreement with the Coalition and Oceana follows in line with the Cabinet decision to phase-out the use of gillnets in Belize, passed in December 2019, and replaces the previous agreement signed in March 2020 with the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries. This agreement reiterates the conditions and timelines for a successful phase-out and livelihoods transition that would conclude in a ban to be instituted throughout Belize’s maritime waters by January 2022 at the latest or earlier when the livelihoods transition of fishers is successfully attained. The agreement also sets the framework to determine the eligibility of gillnet fishers for the livelihoods transition programme sponsored by the Coalition and Oceana, which includes those gillnet fishers licensed in 2018 who presently meet the legal requirements as stated in Statutory Instrument No. 81 of 2019. These legal requirements are such that only gillnetters who are Belizean citizens resident in Belize for the past six months, and who sell their fisheries products only in Belize, will be eligible for the livelihoods transition programme. The implementation of the transition programme and the voluntary surrender of gillnets will be overseen by an oversight committee appointed by the Minister of Fisheries, comprising Government, the Coalition and Oceana.
Commenting on the historic agreement, Minister Figueroa stated, “Government inherently has a responsibility to balance the use of our natural resources and the right of the people to a means of livelihood. In deciding to phase-out the use of gillnets, the Government, through the work of all partners under this agreement, aims to ensure that balance is met, by providing for alternative opportunities for those affected fishers as they transition away from gillnets and ensuring measures are put in place to safeguard the natural resource that belongs to all of us.”
Collectively, the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and Oceana have fundraised BZ$2 million dollars to support eligible gillnet users to transition away from the gear to alternative means of income generation as well as by providing direct financial support during that process.
On the occasion of the signing, the Coalition stated, “the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries salutes Minister Figueroa and his staff, the donors who generously support this effort and the numerous fishermen, led by Belize Federation of Fishers, who donated their time and voices to move this forward. This is a major victory for our fisheries, our marine environment, our economy and the entire country.”
Commenting on this milestone, Janelle Chanona, Vice President of Oceana stated, “Oceana wholeheartedly congratulates the Government and people of Belize on this historic policy change. A ban on an inherently destructive fishing gear like gillnets would indicate to the world that Belize is committed to safeguarding fishing and tourism-based livelihoods. Oceana looks forward to championing the leaders who take decisive action to address this long-standing issue.”
Hon. Osmany Salas, NGO Senator, offered his congratulations and support. The Senator said, “The ban on gillnets is supported by a number of NGOs, the tourism sector, as well as a number of civil society organizations. The worsening COVID-19 pandemic has made us realize that sustainable practices are critical to the health of our marine environment, and therefore to the people who depend on them daily.”
The Government of Belize recognizes the collective commitment of the partners to the success of the transition programme and the phase-out and will continue to work to ensure that Belizeans will be able to depend on a bountiful and beautiful Caribbean Sea for generations to come.