By Ralna Lewis,
Wildlife Conservation Society &
The fisheries sector is central to the Belizean economy. In 2011 it accounted for $25.95 million BZD in export earnings, representing 2.2 percent of Belize’s GDP. In 2012 the sector supported close to 3,000 fishermen.
The Government of Belize uses a combination of tools to manage its fisheries, including regulations on gear, seasonal closures, and a system of marine protected areas.
Over the years, these approaches have proven to be somewhat successful at improving the health and function of Belize’s marine ecosystems. Yet growing threats such as climate change, habitat loss, pollution, and fishing pressure continue to place our marine resources at risk.
Recognizing that global, regional, and local threats are on the rise and in order to meet international obligations, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), resource managers are seeking additional management interventions to safeguard Belize’s marine resources and the livelihoods of fishing communities.
Such interventions may limit and further regulate access to fisheries resources. While fishers recognize a need for improved management, they have clearly articulated that economic alternatives need to be established for the sector prior to or in conjunction with any management intervention.
To address this, the Belize Fisheries Department – with the support of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and other marine conservation partners – has facilitated the development of a National Economic Alternative and Fisheries Diversification (EAFD) Plan through a collaborative approach with stakeholders. The EAFD plan was developed over a period of 6 months in consultation with fishing cooperatives, associations, and communities through a series of workshops across the country.
Economic alternatives are not new to the fisheries sector. Livelihood transitions related to tilapia, chicken, and vegetable farming; tour guiding; and sport fishing have all succeeded by varying degrees.
The EAFD plan is unique in that it addresses the sector from a business perspective. It seeks to develop activities that ensure a return on investments and enable project sustainability over the long term, rather than simply introducing an alternative means of income.
The plan also promotes diversification of existing fisheries, providing fishers with options in the face of an uncertain future from climate change threats.
It aims to strengthen and scale up on-going initiatives by investing in activities that: (a) are already being done on a small scale;
(b) utilize local resources; and
(c) seek to create benefits that will impact fishers, their households, and the larger community.
The EAFD plan further aims to improve the management of the fisheries sector and strengthen the enviornment for the implementation and success of the plan by addressing the institutional needs of the fishing cooperatives and management agencies.
One of the projects highlighted in the plan is the expansion of sustainable seaweed farming. The Placencia Producers Cooperative Society Limited (PPCSL) has taken a lead in farming, processing, and distribution of seaweed products both on the local and international market. They have successfully diversified the Cooperative’s sources of income while contributing to the reduction of fishing pressure on traditional species.
We live in a nation for which one truth is unassailable: Fishers matter.
While we must do all we can to enable those who make their living from this profession to continue that work sustainably, we are also coming to terms with the reality that the best way to ensure the continued health of Belize’s fisheries sector is through the diversification of fishers’ income base. The EAFD plan is poised to play a critical role in that process.