[Press Release, Belize City, Belize, 11 December 2019] For two decades, many Belizean fishers have been calling for a ban on gillnets. Over the past 18 months, following a number of meetings with Government officials and licensed gill-netters, a coalition of NGOs, including commercial fishermen, sports fishers, game fishers, and tourism and conservation organizations, drafted a comprehensive proposal to transition those 83 fishers who have a gillnet license away from the gear.
Based on fisher consultations, a $1 million alternative livelihood program was ready to be launched in early 2020 to financially support the already identified endeavors that would have replaced the supplemental income derived from gillnetting. These funds were raised by the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries. Transition choices would have included training in alternative fishing methods, tourism training and scholarships.
The coalition’s proposal also asked the Government to announce a policy change that would nationally ban possession of gillnets by December 2020. During the one-year transition, a $1 million gillnet buy-back component supported by Oceana-Belize would have been executed directly to fishers.
The proposal also asked the Government to implement strict penalties for violations of the ban, which would have assisted in enforcement efforts. It must be stated that these funds (just over $2 million) were raised on the basis that mechanisms were in place to ensure funds went directly to licensed, Belizean fishers.
However, Government stopped far short of accepting a proposal that would have directly benefitted licensed, Belizean fishers and their families. The transition away from gillnets would have benefitted the thousands of Belizeans who also depend on fishing but do not use gillnets.
Instead, the Government has indicated that a ban “will be considered” in the future, which is far from the news that many had worked towards. Government announced a series of measures to regulate gillnets but these have been tried in the past without much success. Legislation to eventually restrict gillnet use to only Belizean citizens is a very positive step, but this does not address the fundamental problem – that gillnets are destroying our fisheries and negatively impacting Belize’s economy. The Belize Network of NGOs therefore calls on Government to reconsider its decision and immediately convene a conversation to reconsider the coalition’s proposal.
There is overwhelming support for a gillnet ban among commercial fishermen, who see the fish stocks seriously declining, and the tourism sector, which notes the damaging effects of gillnets on the tourism industry. Furthermore, a survey conducted by the Government-appointed Gillnet Task Force to evaluate this issue, indicated that 95% of respondents support a gillnet ban.
The gillnet issue has national implications and should be a priority for all Belizeans because as one former gillnet fisher noted, “gillnets will eventually be banned one way or the other because if the use of this destructive gear continues, there will be no fish left.”