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Government agrees on timeline for gillnet transition and ban

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Posted: Friday, August 21, 2020. 1:36 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Government of Belize is to institute a ban on use of gill nets in Belizean waters at the start of 2022 or earlier and begin helping their users to transition to alternative income-generating opportunities and to support the voluntary surrender of gillnets.  

Minister of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development Dr Hon. Omar Figueroa inked the agreement on Thursday with the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries (CSF) and Oceana. The members of the CSF include: Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA); Belize Game Fish Association; National Sports Fishing Association; Belize Federation of Fishers; Turneffe Atoll Trust; Yellowdog Conservation and Community Foundation and MAR Alliance.

Government has long insisted that before it formally bans the use of gillnets in Belize’s marine territory and Exclusive Economic Zone, it wants fishers to successfully phase out their usage. If the transition goes well, the ban may be instituted even earlier.

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, the latter of whom have already raised $2 million to support the transition.

According to Minister Figueroa, “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.”

The Coalition called it “… a major victory for our fisheries, our marine environment, our economy and the entire country,” while Oceana vice-president Janelle Chanona added, “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.”

Senator Osmany Salas of the non-governmental organization community offered his support, stating, “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.”

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