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Oceana’s Fisheries Audit Reveals Belize is Strong on Policy but Weak on Implementation

Prime Minister Briceño and Fisheries Minister Perez have a real opportunity to move Belize’s fisheries management from policy to practice

Press Release Date: March 10, 2022

Location: Belize City, Belize

Contact:

Andrew Usher

Today, Oceana Belize released its first annual Fishery Audit. The report shows that while Belize has a strong foundational policy for environmentally sustainable fisheries management embodied within the Fisheries Resources Act (2020), it has come up short on implementation as fisheries information, including landings data, do not appear to be systematically collected and reported, hindering the ability to properly assess fish stocks and develop effective catch control measures. There is also a substantial need to improve transparency of decision-making processes.

The audit identified that despite significant government commitments and investments to date, limited monitoring and collection of fisheries data continues to undermine the effective management of Belize’s fish stocks and fisheries. There is no public, nationwide system for ongoing collection of landings data, nor regular monitoring of catch composition by species and fish size, even though this is already technically required by the Managed Access Program. Queen Conch is the only stock that has its landings monitored in a regulated and transparent way.

“Changing the status quo is critical to supporting the livelihoods of Belizean fishers,” said Janelle Chanona, VicePresident, Oceana Belize. “Working together, we have a rare, but time sensitive opportunity to help fish stocks rebound, restore abundance to our Caribbean Sea and drive our post-pandemic economic recovery. The work starts with establishing strong data collection procedures, strengthening capacity within the Fisheries Department, fisher associations and committees and ensuring the public has access to data and decisions. Rebuilding wild fish populations, providing lasting support for coastal communities and helping feed future
generations, can be a key pillar of this government’s legacy.”

Changing the trajectory of country-scale fisheries management performance and the health of wild fish populations is more urgent than ever. Fisheries today face increasing pressure from climate change, pollution, habitat destruction and overfishing. Oceana Belize reiterates its commitment to support Prime Minister Briceño and Fisheries Minister Perez as they meaningfully address the most critical gaps in Belize’s marine fisheries management regime. We highlight that prioritizing the following actions in the next five years will be critical:

1. Strengthen capacity of fisheries personnel, fishers’ associations and fishing committees to ensure
inclusive participation;
2. Formalize fisheries working groups;
3. Continue using and adapting the Adaptive Management Framework;
4. Establish robust data collection and sharing procedures for better science-based decision-making

While a number of entities are collecting fisheries data (namely co-management entities, fishing cooperatives, seafood business and fishers), there appears to be very limited data collection coordination and data sharing among these different groups. Without such structure at the national level, which provides for a uniform approach across all commercial fisheries, it is essentially impossible to evaluate stock health, make informed harvest management decisions, and evaluate management performance. Moreover, the fisheries information that is being collected is not easily accessible by the general public.

As estimated in this audit, information was lacking for most of the 54 commercially fished marine stocks in Belize (96% have unknown overfished status, and 98% have unknown overfishing status). Considering the lack of catch limits and other harvest controls for many stocks, it is likely that at least some are heavily exploited or possibly overexploited, but the information is simply unavailable. The limited availability of fisheries data precludes the effective use of scientific information in management.

To read the full Audit, download audit report here.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in Asia, North, South and Central America and Europe.