At this hour in San Pedro, the Ministry of Blue Economy is hosting a public meeting with fisherfolk from the island to discuss a recent amendment to the Fisheries Act. The regulation that governs the tail weight of lobsters is set and it is now about compliance. But as the ministry is going around doing its public consultations, it is realizing that not all fishermen are in the know. The next stop is Placencia where fishermen from the south are to be engaged this Friday, but today in Independence Village, News Five found about twenty fishermen echoing the sentiments of the fishermen from Sarteneja, who believe that their livelihoods are at stake.

Duane Moody, Reporting

The fishing community in Independence Village and surrounding areas converged to discuss the regional lobster regulation by OPESCA, the Organization of Fisheries and Agriculture in Central America. The regulation changes the approved weight of lobster tails to four point five ounces. While the change may be only an additional half an ounce, the fishers say it has a huge impact on their bottom-line.

Hector Martinez, Independence Fisherman

"I've been fishing since I was fourteen so over thirty years already I've been a fisherman. It does have a big impact because up north, there is a different size of lobster. The size is known to be a little smaller than down south. Yes indeed down south we have bigger lobster, but there is certain times of the year when the north season come in, for some reason the lobster gets smaller. The one we start catching, they are a bit smaller. So it will affect us big time because we had COVID and the cost of living went up. The war out there, also fuel gone up now so it will affect us big time."

Mario Gonzalez, Independence Fisherman

"It will hurt the economy and our income by fifty percent. And we all have different bills; different things we need to pay and our money will not be enough because they did not do their research properly. They did not ask the fisherman about the effect that it will have. They are just making decision on their own and they are not including fishermen in their decision-making."

Carlos Castellanos from the Riversdale community on the peninsula attended the meeting. He has been a fisherman for forty-four years and explains that during the pandemic he was affected and this makes it worse. They collectively fear that the changes may trigger illegal fishing.

Carlos Castellanos, Riversdale Fisherman

"From January, November December when the cold water come, the lobster dehn start to get small and they need to reproduce and grow so that part will affect me."

Hector Martinez

"It will affect our families, our kids, our daily lives in a whole it will affect us. I personally don't see that it will benefit us in any way. In ink and paper with a pen, it looks good probably, but in reality, we the fishermen know well that it won't work. It will just create a bigger black market out there."

Last week, C.E.O. in the Ministry of Blue Economy, Kennedy Carrillo, said that all stakeholders in the industry must come together and feared that the fishing community may not have true representation on the ministry's advisory council.

Kennedy Carrillo, C.E.O., Ministry of Blue Economy [File: May 20th, 2022]

"And I think that when we started this process in Caye Caulker, we saw a successful resolution because one of the most salient outcomes of these discussions is a lack of proper representation of the fishing community. You have the department and the ministry; you have the cooperatives who are the ones that sit on the fisheries advisory council which is the highest mechanism for the decision making; those are the ones that advise the minister on the decisions that need to be made. And so these cooperatives, four of them - well two main cooperatives and the Chunox and Hopkins sit on the advisory council as representatives of the fishers sector."

Hector Martinez

"There is someone claiming to represent us in the south and speaking for us, but I don't know who appointed him to say that he is representing us because we have no representation from any individual in the south. Yes we have the two cooperatives down here and also the rainforest, but they are just buyers."

The fishers say they cannot afford to lose income with the increasing cost of living. They are asking for alternatives or at least an option to make up for the income that will be lost.

Mario Gonzalez

"We would like some kind of alternative if they already made decision to change it because they are taking fifty percent of our income just like that. It's like they are just holding out hands back and hitting us in our faces and telling us we can't do anything. We just supposed to accept the changes. We are not going to accept these changes, we feel robbed."

Carlos Castellanos

"We need to be consulted, which in he said we'll be consulted, but we never be consulted a hundred percent. We need to be consulted about dehn thing deh."

Hector Martinez

"This is like a last minute thing that we found out all these changes. There's a lot of changes that the government will be implemented. And I think each change that they plan to make needs to be looked into individually to see where it affects us the fishermen. The people wanted a change, so we made that change, but for betterment, not for worse. So are you going to please OPESCA or are you going to fight for your country and your people?"

That's a question that will be asked this Friday as the Ministry of Blue Economy will be having a public meeting with these fishermen from the south in Placencia. Duane Moody for News Five.

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