Since 2009, Oceana has promoted the importance of protecting Belize’s natural resources, encouraging healthy fisheries and highlighting the impact of destructive fishing gear in Belize. Our long-term vision for the Belize Barrier Reef is a thriving ecosystem, capable of producing abundant, healthy marine resources that support a vibrant and sustainable local economy for Belizeans.
In December 2010, the Belizean government announced a ban on all forms of trawling in the country's waters including its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) when Fisheries Minister, Rene Montero, signed the Statutory Instrument effecting the legislation.
The call to ban bottom trawling had been made some years prior to the legislation being passed but lacked the political will, as the government was faced with the reality of what to do with the existing trawlers owned and operated by the Northern Fishermen Cooperative Association (NFC).
Trawls are one of the most destructive forms of fishing gear in the world. Shrimp trawls are notorious for the amount of bycatch, or untargeted catch, they haul in. Thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and untargeted fish are caught in shrimp trawlers around the world every year. Meanwhile, bottom trawlers’ weighted nets effectively clear-cut the ocean floor with every pass, destroying sensitive corals and anything else in their way.
With this ban, which went into effect December 31st, 2010, Belize became one of the first countries in the world to institute a complete and permanent ban on trawling in all its waters.
Gillnets have been notorious for high levels of bycatch, often trapping and killing marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks and other ecologically and economically important fish.
In Belize, there is evidence of the gear catching, entangling and killing protected species like bonefish, tarpon, permit, manatees and endangered species such as scalloped hammerheads. Gillnets are already credited with the regional extinction of sawfish. Additionally, gillnetting can be even more destructive when they become lost or forgotten in the water and continue to catch animals, a phenomenon known as “ghost fishing”.
Moreover, when caught on a reef, nets not only catch fish, turtles, crustaceans, birds or marine mammals, they also destroy hard and soft corals, wiping out complete ecosystems while tossing around in the current.
Based on economics, science, regional examples and stakeholder engagement, Oceana proposed a phase out of gillnets in order to protect endangered species and livelihoods in tourism and fishing.
On November 5th, 2020, in a landmark step to protect livelihoods and strengthen marine conservation, the Government of Belize passed the Statutory Instrument 158 of 2020 titled Fisheries Resources (Gill Net Prohibition) Regulations 2020, banning the possession and use of gillnets in Belize’s marine territorial seas, Exclusive Economic Zone and internal waters. This legislative step thus, rendered all gillnet licenses invalid.
This decision was welcomed by Oceana, Belizean fishers, and NGO partners as a momentous step to protect invaluable marine environments and safeguard the livelihoods of tens of thousands Belizeans. With the enactment of this Statutory Instrument, Belize became one of the first countries in the world to put an end to gillnet fishing in its territorial waters.
The Statutory Instrument was preceded by a government announced moratorium on the issuance of gillnet licenses in 2019, and a collaborative agreement between the Government of Belize, the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and Oceana, to render support to gillnet fishers to transition to alternative income-generating opportunities and to support the voluntary surrender of gillnets.
Collectively, the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and Oceana have fundraised BZ$2 million dollars to support eligible gillnet users to transition away from the gear to alternative means of income generation as well as by providing direct financial support during that process.
With a successful transition program in place, those gillnet fishers licensed in 2018 who met eligibility for the livelihoods transition program and agreed to surrender their gillnets, are being transitioned away from this destructive form of fishing. The implementation of the transition program is being overseen by an oversight committee appointed by the Minister of Fisheries, comprising Government, the Coalition and Oceana.