16 May 2017 - Belize’s commercial and subsistence fisheries are important to the livelihoods of approximately 2,800 fishermen, their families and coastal fishing communities. Belize’s Fisheries were considered an open access fishery up until 2011. The threat of resource depletion was clearly indicated by fishermen whose catch was constantly declining.
July 2011 marked a turning point in the history of fisheries management in Belize, as the Belize Fisheries Department (BFD) in partnership with Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) pioneered at two of its marine reserves the implementation of a rights-based approach to fisheries management called Managed Access.
The program was designed to empower traditional fishers by ensuring greater participation in the decision-making process which impacts their livelihood, and by improving the benefits to be derived from the fish stocks in terms of increased fish landings, reduction in fishing effort, larger size classes and increased prices and revenues. In addition, in the long term, there will be benefits accrued to the ecosystem which will contribute to the maintenance of the overall health and sustainability of the Belize Barrier Reef complex.
Key to the success of this program are several components which include, but are not limited to: improvements in the licensing/registry system and process; a good monitoring and fishery dependent catch data collection program; a dedicated presence of enforcement personnel and use of new enforcement technologies; and most importantly, the greater active involvement of fishers themselves in the program via fishing area based committees. All of which, coupled with an extensive social marketing campaign and consultation process has yielded significant success and benefits for the resource as well as the stakeholders.
Initially, Managed Access, sought to complement Belize’s successful marine reserve network with a system of limited access that would allow access to fishing within the general use zone of the marine reserve only to its bonafide fishermen. Managed Access eventually metamorphosed, and five years after the implementation at the pilot sites, the positive results and consultation process triggered the expansion of the program beyond just the initial proposal to roll out to the marine reserve network.
Thus, in June of 2016, Managed Access was rolled out to the entire territorial waters of Belize and it now secures tenure for fishermen to fish in two of eight designated fishing areas called TURFs (Territorial User Rights for Fishing), with the additional option of Area 9 that is designated for deep sea fishing. In the process of the national expansion of Managed Access, The Belize Fisheries Department Managed Access Task Force evolved into the Managed Access Working Group (MAWG), which now incorporates a broader array of stakeholders.
The establishment of the MAWG was realized in order to have a better participatory intervention of both stakeholders and technical capacities that would better guide the expansion under an ecosystems based approach.