Belize Implements National Sustainable Fisheries Reforms

Secure Fishing Rights Approach Serves as Global Model for Small-Scale Fisheries

June 16, 2016
Matt Smelser, (202) 572-3272,

(Belmopan, Belize – June 16, 2016) This week Belize becomes the first country in the world to adopt a national, multispecies secure fishing rights program for small-scale fisheries. After a long struggle to address illegal fishing and the threat of overfishing, a partnership of fishing communities and non-governmental organizations, under the leadership of Belize’s Fisheries Department, created a new system that empowers fishermen and women to conserve and protect their fishery while still using its resources to provide for their families.

“We have a small-scale fishery here in Belize, and at the end of the day we are very keen in putting in place a regime which speaks to long-term sustainability that empowers and improves the livelihoods of the people who depend on fisheries,” said Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade.

Along the Belize Barrier Reef there is magnificent biodiversity - mangroves, corals, seagrass, cayes and their populations of conch, lobster, and reef fish. However, as is common in many developing fishing nations, unsustainable and illegal fishing are major threats to the preservation of these rich ecosystems, the livelihoods of local families that depend on these natural resources and food security for Belizeans.

In response to these challenges, the Belize Fisheries Department, with support from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), spearheaded a coalition of government, fishing communities and non-governmental organizations to address these problems and create incentives for fishermen and women to become stewards of their fisheries. At the center of the solution being adopted by Belize is a combination of secure fishing rights and empowerment called “Managed Access” in Belize. Under this approach, fishermen and women control their own future through licenses giving them access to fish in two of eight specific geographic areas—or Territorial Use Right for Fishing (TURF) —of the fishery, and responsibilities to help manage the areas and observe regulations. 

“Belize is showing the world the way forward,” said Amanda Leland, EDF’s senior vice president for Oceans. “The adoption of fishing rights nationwide will serve as proof to other countries with small-scale fisheries that reforms can create a benefit for not only the environment, but for the people who depend on fish for food and income.”

This concept was first tested at Glover’s Reef Atoll and Port Honduras, where a partnership among the Belize Fisheries Department, WCS, EDF and the Toledo Institute of Development and Environment (TIDE), led to the implementation of the program at the two pilot sites. These areas were established in July 2011, with dedicated access for fishermen who have traditionally used those fishing areas.

“The very supportive responses from the diverse fishers who worked with the NGOs at the pilot sites demonstrated that our pioneering efforts could be nationally implemented for the benefit of the fishers themselves, and the fishing resources that we all want to secure for future generations of Belizeans,” added Nicole Auil Gomez, country director, WCS Belize.

“Under this system of secure fishing rights, fishermen’s incentives flipped from catching as much as possible today to conserving the fishery for the long-term,” said Larry Epstein, Belize country director, Oceans, EDF. “At the two pilot sites, fishermen now enjoy better catches, scientific surveys show the first signs of recovery of fish, and fishermen are complying with regulations like never before. Fishing violations are down 60% and more than 90% of fishermen are submitting their catch data, leading to more accountability and better science.”

The success of the two pilot projects led to demands from thousands of fishermen in Belize to adopt the program across the country. The implementation of secure fishing rights reaffirms the government’s commitment to adopt sustainable and responsible management of Belize’s fisheries. 

“Congratulations to the Government, NGO partners and people of Belize for this impressive milestone. The rollout of nationwide fisheries managed access to the entire territorial waters continues Belize’s leadership role in the Caribbean and around the globe in marine and fisheries conservation,” said Caleb McClennen, WCS vice president of Global Conservation.

Work on this initiative has been supported by The Summit Foundation and the Oak Foundation.

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