Belize Set to Adopt Comprehensive Fisheries Reform Law

Mandates end to overfishing in its waters through effective management, community approaches and innovative science

December 23, 2019
Tad Segal, (202) 572-3549

(BELMOPAN, Belize – Dec. 20, 2019) The country of Belize, a global leader in ocean conservation, today took a critical step by taking key action to adopt a national law to protect its ocean waters from inadequately managed fishing, said Environmental Defense Fund.

The enactment of this law will put in place a strong foundation for effective fisheries management, including approaches that will work to protect coral reef ecosystems in the face of climate change. Belize joins Cuba and Japan in adopting sweeping reforms of their foundational fisheries management laws, all completed since December 2018. The new law, called Fisheries Resources Bill, had a first reading today in the National Assembly, with follow-up passage expected in early next year.

After many years of work to protect the Western Hemisphere’s largest barrier reef, Belize has emerged as a global leader in ocean conservation with a recent commitment to expand its marine protected areas and the establishment of a national fishing rights system. EDF has partnered with the Belizean government, local fishers and NGO partners since 2011, creating pilot programs and facilitating community engagement in order to help the country move toward sustainable fisheries and the conservation of important marine natural resources.

“As a Belizean, I am proud that my country has created a system that empowers fishermen and women to serve as the stewards of their natural resources, ensuring their ability to provide for their families now and in the future,” said Nicanor Requena, Belize program manager, EDF. “This new law will help Belize continue to rebuild our fish populations and strengthen our reef ecosystem as climate change begins to impact the ocean.”

The new law will solidify new scientific processes for monitoring and managing fish populations; establish more robust enforcement measures for illegal fishing, including vessel monitoring system technology; and formalize legal definitions for the nation’s innovative Managed Access approach. It will also create a national council made up of key stakeholders including fishers, NGOs and others, to review management plans and other fisheries’ actions. 

Established in 2016, the Managed Access approach is a nationwide fishing rights program and the first of its kind in the world. Under Managed Access, fishers and fishing communities control their future through licenses, giving them access to fish in specific geographic areas of the fishery, and responsibilities to help manage the areas and observe regulations. Belize has seen a dramatic drop in illegal fishing and an improvement in the health of its reefs since Managed Access was established.

“This new law is a continuation of Belize’s commitment to protect both its vibrant reefs and its fishing sector by empowering our communities with the right tools,” said Beverly Wade, Belize fisheries administrator. “Through community engagement, better enforcement and our Managed Access approach, our healthier ocean waters will help us reduce poverty, improve food security and increase investment in Belize.”

The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and hosts a diverse array of mangroves, corals, seagrass, cays, as well as populations of conch, lobster and reef fish. According to a recent Mesoamerican Reef Report Card by Healthy Reef for Healthy People, Belize’s no-take zones show growing fish populations and biodiversity.

“Belize is an example to the world,” said Eric Schwaab, senior vice president for the Oceans Program, EDF. “Their continued commitment to conservation that considers the needs of people and nature is exactly the kind of approach we need to end overfishing and make our oceans more resilient to the increasing effects of climate change.”

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