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Ministry of Blue Economy and Civil Aviation, Fisheries Department refute Belize Federation of Fishers statement that fisheries industry is in crisis

Posted: Tuesday, July 18, 2023. 1:44 pm CST.

Photo Credit MBECA

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: The Ministry of Blue Economy and Civil Aviation (MBECA) and its Fisheries Department say in a press release dated July 17, 2023, they are responding with ‘grave concern’ to recent statements made by the Belize Federation of Fishers (BFF) in a press release dated July 12, 2023 that appeared on their Facebook page and on Channel 5 News of Belize. MBECA also said that the statements were also published by the Amandala Newspaper on Friday, July 14 (Issue No. 3664) under the front-page headline ‘Fisheries Industry in Crisis’.

The Ministry said it is disappointed with the BFF for making ‘irresponsible and baseless comments’ on the situation of the fishing industry in Belize.

“The Belize fisheries industry is in crisis,” the Amandala story started crediting its statement to the findings of a series of workshops conducted by the Belize Federation of Fishers, scientists from the Summit Foundation, and local fisherfolk from three areas in Belize.

“Representatives of the Belize Federation of Fishers outlined that key policy changes, including a change of the open access fishing license regime and increased enforcement to address illegal fishing by our Honduran and Guatemalan neighbors, are urgently needed,” the Amandala said in its subheadline.

The Amandala goes on to quote BFF Chairman Dale Fairweather, who it says has over 40 years’ experience in the industry, that the conch industry ‘is in the worst trouble in Belize right now’ citing cases of illegal fishing.

The BFF press release expressed concern about the alleged discovery of illegal and undersized conch in the possession of Rainforest Seafood Ltd.

“If the matter as reported in the PRESS and on various avenues of social media most recently is true – it is reflective of the unfolding CRISIS being experienced not only by the conch fishery, but by other aspects of the Belize Fishing Industry,” the BFF said in their release.

The BFF said the workshops conducted in partnership with the Summit Foundation of the United States that ‘were geared specifically to dialogue with fishers or Fisherfolk found that conch stocks were heavily fished and showed significant signs of depletion’.

MBECA said those accusations are unfounded.

“The accusations against the Ministry and the Fisheries Department are also not founded on facts and leads us to believe that there may be ulterior motives at play. It is evident, as expressed in their press release, that the current statements are founded on the work done by the Summit Foundation which has not been validated nor endorsed by the Government of Belize,” MBECA said.

“The Summit work did not benefit from a wide-range of stakeholder engagement, especially with the representatives of fisher folk organizations throughout the coastal fishing communities and local science partners. The Ministry is aware of the work being conducted by the Summit Foundation and has formally written to the Director on this matter expressing major concerns on the draft report and is currently awaiting a response. Furthermore, the BFF has not been able to prove to the Government of Belize (GOB) that they represent the majority of Belizean fishers and the interest of these fishers as claimed, and as per their slogan ‘A Voice for Belizean Commercial Fishers’.”

MBECA said Belize’s small-scale fisheries management has earned international recognition and served as a model for other countries. The Ministry further adds that Belize also participates in two Regional Fisheries Institutions: the Organization of Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector in Central America (OSPESCA) and the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), which have adopted regional management measures for the sustainable use of fisheries resources.

“GOB has also been fully compliant with the management regime for Queen conch as prescribed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Flora and Fauna,” MBECA said.

MBECA went on to say that the Fisheries Department has updated its governance framework for fisheries management in recent years, including the enactment of modern fisheries legislation with higher fines and penalties to deter illegal fishing, and the Fisheries Policy, Strategy and Action Plan. The Fisheries Department will also conduct a comprehensive assessment of the fisheries stocks for lobster, Queen conch and finfish, with joint funding from the Inter-American Development Bank and the GOB.

“This work should result in the updating of the management plans and further strengthening of the harvest control rules, as well as identifying new economic opportunities for investments in the blue sector,” MBECA said in its press release.

“It should be noted that previous fish stock assessment work, especially for the Spiny Lobster and Queen Conch has been independently validated by known scientific experts both regionally and internationally.”

MBECA concluded its press release saying it reaffirmed its commitment to work in the best interest of the fishing communities and to safeguard its resources for the present and future generations.

 

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