Restoring Belizean fisheries and coral reefs

Working with fishermen and Belizean government to scale up management solutions

Fisherman Belize

Jason Houston

Along the magnificent Belize Barrier Reef, a rich diversity of mangroves, corals, seagrass and cayes host populations of conch, lobster, and reef fish on which some 15,000 people depend. Since the time of the Maya, the reef has provided food and trade for inhabitants of Mesoamerica.

Open access fishing has been a major threat to the preservation of barrier reef, the livelihoods of local families and food security for Belizeans. For some fishermen, spiny lobster catches plunged from 200 to 20 per day. Some fish populations declined by a third.

In response, EDF created a coalition of government, fishermen and civil society organizations to end open access and create incentives for fishermen to steward the resource. At the center of our solution is a combination of access rights, local empowerment and enforcement. Under the system of area-based rights, which Belizeans call Managed Access, fishermen now see themselves as custodians of the resource who benefit from increased sustainability.

We tested this concept at two ecological treasures – Glover’s Reef and Port Honduras – and are seeing positive results. Fishermen enjoy better catches, scientific surveys show the first signs of recovery of reef fish and fishermen comply with regulations like never before. Violations of no-take zones are down 60%.

The future

Word travels fast, and the success here has fishermen across Belize are calling for the system to be expanded.

The Government of Belize asked EDF to work on developing a national system of area-based rights, and the system is now in the process of being implemented. This will be the first nationwide system of rights-based multispecies fisheries management in the developing world.

Media contact

  • Matthew Smelser
    (202) 572-3272 (office)
    (512) 731-3023 (cell)
    Contact Follow