Wildlife Conservation Society – As more and more fishermen ply a shrinking number of fish from the waters of Belize, the country’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries has taken a major step to save its coral reefs from further loss. On July 1, Belize launched a managed access program aimed at addressing overfishing at two pilot sites, the Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve (GRMR) and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve (PHMR). The program will help safeguard these critical nursery and feeding grounds for sea turtles, sharks and rays, moray eels and numerous other tropical fish species.
WCS joined forces with the Belize Fisheries Department, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Toledo Institute of Development and Environment—the co-manager of PHMR—to develop the program. Over the past two years, the partners have held multiple consultations with fishermen, and collaborated with them on the design.
The managed access program, a form of rights-based management, will stem the decline of fisheries by ending open-access fishing, reducing illegal fishing, and encouraging collaboration between fishermen and marine reserve managers. The program also aims to strengthen enforcement at both pilot sites. In addition, it includes a special license system granting fishing access only to those who have traditionally used these sites, in order to reduce the number of catches at these marine reserves.
The program will also soon work to limit the catch of lobster and conch from these areas. WCS has collected fisheries catch data at GRMR for more than five years, which will be used in developing sustainable models for fishing lobster and conch at Glover’s. An important feature of the managed access program is the requirement for fishermen to provide data on their total catch, which will help Belize refine its models over time.
By actively involving fishermen in this endeavor, the program strives to instill them with a greater sense of resource stewardship. As economic incentives, the program will provide support for fishing communities in diversifying livelihoods, and will research the potential for tapping into seafood markets that pay a premium on products from sustainable fisheries. This includes seafood originating from areas that contain no-take areas and employ gear restrictions and limited access, management measures now in place at GRMR and PHMR.
WCS and its partners will evaluate the implementation of the program over the next six months and adjust its design as needed. Ultimately, the conservationists hope to restore fisheries at GRMR while simultaneously helping to maintain the health of the atoll’s coral reef system. If the program proves successful, Belize’s Fisheries Department intends to expand it to other marine reserves along the country’s coastline.