My fellow Belizeans,
Since 2009, Oceana has been supporting the call of Belizean fishers to have a form of fishing called gillnetting banned in Belizean waters. In December 2019, the Barrow administration took the historic step of declaring this gear inherently destructive. Since then, Oceana has been engaged with the Prime Minister, the Minister and Ministry of Fisheries to identify our role in the reasonable transition of Belizean users of this gear to alternate means of fishing.
As you are aware from news reports broadcast in December 2019, at that time the Government said the combined two million dollars was not enough to meaningfully/adequately support licensed gillnet fishers away from gill netting.
At present, the total offer of transitional support to Belizean fishers has increased to 2.5 million Belize dollars, one (1) million Belize dollars of which has been raised by Oceana. The balance of the funds has been raised by the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries.
From the onset of the process, Oceana has shared that our offer of financial support was contingent on specific conditions being met. We therefore shared a draft agreement with both the Prime Minister as well as the Minister of Fisheries. That agreement repeats the same clauses contained in the 2011 contract signed between the Government of Belize and Oceana when trawling was banned.
This new agreement would be tied to a gillnet ban in the same way and would provide that if any future administration seeks to alter or lift the ban, specific measures, including notification of such intention as well as a repayment of funds provided for transitional support, will go into effect.
If accepted, the Belizean fishers in need of transitional support would receive the maximum financial support possible: 2.5 million Belize dollars. The funds raised by Oceana would be used to buy gillnetting licenses from Belizean fishers via in cash, monthly payments made directly to fishers through the Belize Credit Union League, which would complement the supplemental income training opportunities program executed by the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries.
The agreement would also guarantee stability in their transition to other forms of fishing activities. And as it has done in the case of trawling, these clauses would effectively deter those interested in undermining the commitment of Belize’s commercial fishers to the long-term integrity of Belizean fisheries and marine habitats as well as undoing the critical leadership that this administration has taken to support that commitment by mandating both accountability and transparency in the decision- making process.
On March 3rd, 2020, the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development issued a press release indicating that they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries for 1.5 million Belize dollars in transitional support to licensed gillnet fishers and clarified, that a gillnet ban will take effect in March 2022.
Oceana wholeheartedly congratulates the Government and people of Belize on this historic policy change. But we must add that Oceana is not in the business of paying for policy or even of being perceived to be doing so. We raised this million dollars in good faith in order to make sure those impacted by this policy change received just and reasonable compensation.
This week’s announcement has been more than two decades in the making. This is the result of the passionate commitment of Belizean fishers, NGO partners and supporters of marine based livelihoods to sustainable fishing practices. Oceana is proud to work with and champion the voices of Belizeans countrywide who never stopped advocating against this inherently destructive fishing gear.
We are counting on your support to underscore the importance of these conditions as a means to reinforce measures of transparency and accountability that bodes well for all concerned. Like and share our release release from our social media pages! Let your area representative know this is important to you. Have conversations with your friends and family about how we can all play a role in making sure the ban on gillnets is both decisive and meaningful.
If you know an eligible gillnet fisher who could benefit from additional transitional support, please ask them to contact Oceana’s office at 822-2792 for more information on how they can document their support for the agreement and therefore, access the maximum amount of funds on offer for their transition away from gillnets.