In a press release issued yesterday, Tuesday, March 17, 2021, the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and Oceana Belize fired at the Ministry of Blue Economy expressing their concerns that the Ministry appears to be rapidly moved to substantially alter Statutory Instrument 158 of 2020, effectively overturning the gillnet ban. Today, Hon. Andre Perez, Minister of Blue Economy and Civil Aviation, categorically refutes the allegations, including that he is refusing to meet with licensed Belizean fishers.
“We were disappointed to learn this week that the Ministry of Blue Economy is involved in a spurious lawsuit filed by a third party with a pre-determined mediation initiated even prior to the court’s approval to proceed,”stated the press release from the Coalition and Oceana. “The Coalition and Oceana are confident that through constructive dialogue, we can jointly determine the best ways to sustainably manage our fisheries management and enforcement.
“We have communicated our concerns to Prime Minister Briceño, Minister Perez and Minister Mahler that a reversal of the gillnet ban will seriously affect the tourism industry, tourism jobs and eventually the country’s economic health. The Coalition and Oceana stands in solidarity with the Belizean fishers who have overwhelmingly supported the gillnet ban and the sustainability of our fisheries.”
The Ministry of Blue Economy stated that it is open to having discussions with the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and Oceana Belize but expresses its disappointment in the hastily drawn conclusions and aspersions cast. The Ministry says it expects that both organizations will commit to working with the Ministry to put in place proper management, oversight, and programs to ensure the social protection of fishers and long-term sustainability of Belize’s aquatic resources.
Minister Perez stated that he finds it imperative to inform the nation and all concerned that the Belize Fishermen Cooperatives Association filed a lawsuit against the Minister of Blue Economy on the basis of a decision made by Omar Figueroa, former Minister of Fisheries.
“The lawsuit landed on the Minister’s desk just a few days after assuming office. In response, Minister Perez sought the legal support of the Attorney General’s Ministry. It was prudent to receive proper guidance from legal representatives before engaging in discussions with any interested party. This guidance was especially important as Minister Perez, upon assuming office, was not privy to all the details of the process that eventually led to the implementation of SI No. 158 of 2020.”
Oceana Belize Says Lobby by Illegal Gillnetters Threatens Gillnet Ban
– Press Release – On November 5th, 2020 in a demonstration of commitment to maintain a vibrant and sustainable fishery, the inherently-destructive fishing gear known as gillnets were banned from the maritime waters of Belize via Statutory Instrument 158 of 2020. The gillnet ban was the culmination of a comprehensive multi-year process of consultations and negotiations among all pertinent groups from across the country. This included (i) the establishment of a stakeholder task force which met from 2018 to 2020 to examine issues related of gillnet use culminating in an extensive survey recognizing overwhelming public support for a ban (ii) the development of recommendations in 2019 to phase out and ban gillnets; (iii) the signing of a Binding Agreement in 2020 between the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries, Oceana and the Government of Belize to ban gillnets and assist gillnet fishers to relinquish their nets and transition to alternative income generating opportunities; and (iv) the successful engagement of gill net fishers in 2020 in the transition and gillnet buy-back distributing more than $1.5 million to gillnet fishers to date. All decisions during this multi-year process relied upon information provided by the Belize Fisheries Department via a Freedom of Information Act request in 2018 from Oceana.
The Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and Oceana maintain their joint commitment to the rights of all legally licensed Belizean gillnet fishers who have given up their gillnets and are directly benefitting from $2 million in transitional support. We further acknowledge our ongoing support for thousands of licensed Belizean commercial fishers, sports fishers and tour guides whose livelihoods are safeguarded by the gillnet ban.
All parties, including regulators, are cognizant that gillnets continue to be used illegally in several parts of the country. The Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and Oceana remain steadfast in their commitment to meeting with the Ministry of Blue Economy to discuss further steps to address illegal/unlicensed fishing activity. – End Release –