Belize is amongst eight countries listed by the European Commission as having a poor track record in dealing with Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Oceana calls on the Government of Belize to take swift and decisive action to protect the name and reputation of Belize abroad and to ensure Belize falls in line with its international duties and obligations.
Unfortunately, Belize, which allows the use of the Belize flag by vessels in no way belonging or connected to the country, keeps suffering from a serious bruised face for a few dollars. This venture which was privatized and no longer being managed by the government of Belize is in the hands of IMMARBE (International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize) thus removing major decision-making and oversight roles from the Fisheries Department which is the government department previously responsible for such activity. The bulk of the fees collected by IMMARBE goes into private hands and a small portion is paid into the Belizean treasury, thus not even the substantial portion of the economic benefit goes to Belize.
The Commission explained that it adopted this decision because after their analysis of each country and their subsequent report “there are strong indications that these countries are not fulfilling their duties as flag, coastal, port or market States – duties that are laid down in international law, such as the provisions of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations”.
The release continues by indicating that Belize is not yet black-listed but is being given an opportunity to “formally respond, refute and take measures to rectify the situation” If this warning sent by the issuing this “yellow card” is not heeded to, then the next step is to black list Belize. This would thus mean that Belize would be barred from trading fisheries products with the European Union, from engaging in joint fishing operations or chartering agreements with EU vessels, and from other trade-related activities. The EU hopes to form further international alliance against this matter with other major countries to fight against illegal fishing, which reportedly accounts for 19% of the worldwide fish catch.
“We oppose IUU, we want all countries of the world to do better on managing IUU, and Belize needs to step up and play its part as a responsible country in the international community. It should not serve as a partner to disreputable fishing companies that want to do IUU and to use the Belizean flag as a cover for their activities. It is embarrassing that the Belizean flag is cited by the EU as standing for IUU,” stated Oceana in Belize VP Audrey Matura-Shepherd.
One of the immediate recommendations is for the Government to amend the Registration of Merchant Ships Act Chapter 236 of the Laws of Belize by once again nationalizing IMMARBE and thus returning it to the ownership of the Belizean people and not in the private hands that presently owns it. Next would be to realistically look at the areas of grave concern being pointed out by the European Commission, in whose area of the world Belize’s name and flag has become so disreputable. Monies that will be collected directly by the government by nationalizing IMMARBE should then be earmarked for the Fisheries Department to equip them to carry out the proper oversight and thus guard Belize’s reputation internationally.