Ever been curious about the seafood on your plate? How and where was my seafood caught?
Don’t worry, you are not alone. Over generations, Belizean fishers have navigated our blues with the proper management of national fisheries in mind. Through these sustainability efforts, fishers and NGOs have partnered on various initiatives to not only ensure proper fisheries management, but to also find innovative ways that highlights the importance responsible consumption can have in compliance with fisheries regulations and integrated best practices.
In 2016, this search for innovation led to the creation of the Fish Right, Eat Right program (FRER). This certification program aims to curb illegal fishing and encourage sustainable fisheries practices by offering marketing opportunities through the promotion of responsible seafood sourcing and consumption in Belize.
Since its inception, FRER has worked alongside twenty-two restaurants countrywide that ensures, from sea to plate, their customers are receiving the most sustainably caught seafood possible. One restaurant that has always been committed to the preservation of our marine ecosystems is Ambergris Caye's Blue Water Grill (BWG). Since 2001, Kelly and Mukul Kanabar, owners of this popular beachfront restaurant, have been offering their patrons in San Pedro the culinary experience of a lifetime through the use of local ingredients with their thoughtful and innovative menu. BWG’s dedication to providing sustainable seafood led to their FRER restaurant certification in September 2019.
Mukul shared, “The Fish Right, Eat Right initiative fits exactly into our world view. We need to take care of the environment, the ocean, and the marine life so we can always experience the beauty of Belize - now and in the future. Also, as one of the largest and most visible restaurants in the country, we felt it was important to set an example by joining Fish Right, Eat Right.”
With sustainability at the forefront, Blue Water Grill opts to buy a variety of fish from local, licensed fishermen who align with their operation's sustainable methods – even getting creative along the way. Seven years ago, they stopped listing specific fish on their menu, completely shifting not only how they were able to interact with fishermen, but also how their employees would interact with customers. The newfound flexibility to serve the ‘catch of the day’ created an opportunity for conversation starters between servers and guests. Blue Water Grill's customer service is a cornerstone of their success, which may only be outmatched by their incredible food.
Due to their location on one of Belize’s busy islands, Blue Water Grill still often faces the challenge of sourcing sustainably caught seafood to meet their demands. Because they rely on a small network of fishermen to supply their restaurant, the system is delicate and not always guaranteed. This uncertainty has only emphasized to BWG the tremendous benefits that a virtual marketplace can offer; showing seafood availability in real time, how it was caught, while creating easy communication between fishermen and restaurants. This is how the pilot project, “Market Based Incentives for Responsible Fishing”, being spearheaded by Oceana in San Pedro and Caye Caulker under the FRER initiative, aims to improve the fisheries industry supply chain through open communication and transparency. This is how we can safeguard our food security and fisheries resources.
However, as they say, “Rome was not built in a day”. And so, the development and evolution of FRER continues alongside the many NGO partners, restaurants and fishermen that sees the value of sustainably sourced seafood. Through their participation in the certification program, many restaurants, like Blue Water Grill, will pave the way for a virtual marketplace to revolutionize Belize’s fisheries supply chain.
Hopefully, becoming akin to the Uber app - but for seafood. Given the economic and cultural importance of fisheries in Belize, it is imperative that we ensure the sector’s sustainability.
So just remember this: the next time you sit down to enjoy a seafood meal, ask about what will be served and how it was caught. Not only will this encourage vendors to source responsibly-caught seafood, but you might even end up learning more about your new favorite fish. Learn more about how to support Blue Water Grill's sustainable initiatives at www.bluewatergrillbelize.com.
This article was a feature in Caribbean Culture and Lifestyle's latest publication, The Belize Gold Book. To see the full magazine, visit here.