Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing accounts for roughly 19% of the worldwide fish catch, and has become a nightmare problem for the government of Belize.
The problem has become so great that the European Commission has put Belize its list along with seven other countries for failing to deal with illegal poachers who steal fish from Belizean waters.
The EU blacklisting has caught the attention of Oceana Belize, and the NGO has called on the Government to act swiftly and decisively to protect Belize’s reputation and also to comply with our international obligations to stop the international poachers.
Chief offenders in this international racket are the foreign vessels flying the Belize Flag of convenience, simply because they happen to be registered with the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize (IMMARBE).
IMMARBE is no longer a quasi-government body, since it is now a private entity, Oceana points out. Therefore the Fisheries Department no longer has a supervisory role in the IMMARBE’s decision-making process.
The fees IMMARBE collects for registering foreign ships under the Belize Flag go to private owners, and only a small fee is paid to the Belizean Treasury.
Belize reaps no substantial economic benefit, but is besmirched by the infractions committed by these foreign vessels flying the Belize Flag, Oceana says.
The European Commission report says that “There are strong indications that these countries are not fulfilling their duties as flag, coastal, port or market states – duties that are laid down in international law, such as the provisions of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations.”
Continued offences in this area will cause Belize to be blacklisted, but for now Belize has the opportunity to “formally respond, refute and take measures to rectify the situation.”
If Belize were to be blacklisted, she would be barred from exporting fisheries products to the European Union, or from any joint fishing operations or charter agreements with EU vessels, and from other forms of trade.
The EU plans to fight illegal fishing by forming international alliances with other major countries
Oceana has recommended that the Government amend the Registration of Merchant Ships Act Chapter 236 of the Laws of Belize and at the same time nationalize IMMARBE, returning it to Belizean ownership.
The government also needs to address the areas of concern pointed out in the EU Commission’s report. The fees collected by IMMARBE could then be earmarked to equip the Belize Fisheries Department to execute proper oversight of the vessels in IMMARBE’s registry.