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Oct 8, 2018

Belize Audubon Society – a Partner in Managed Access

Over the past decade or so, you may have heard fishermen report that there are dwindling fish stocks. They say that they have to go farther and their catch is smaller. So to ensure that the livelihoods of thousand of Belizeans and the industry are secured, resource managers have implemented a programme called managed access. The management tool is being used to recover and strengthen vital fisheries resources. The Belize Fisheries Department has been working along with the fishing community and N.G.O. partners – including the Environmental Defense Fund and Wildlife Conservation Society – to implement rights-based fishing in Belize. One of the N.G.O. partners in the managed access programme is the Belize Audubon Society which has been working to ensure the sustainability of the industry. Reporter Andrea Polanco tells us more.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

In 2011, the Wildlife Conservation Society piloted a program called ‘Managed Access’, a rights based system to reduce fishing pressures caused by traditional, small-scale, unregulated fishing. It also provides incentives for fishers not to engage in illegal fishing, by offering secured fishing grounds.

 

Shane Young

Shane Young, Marine Protected Areas Manager, BAS

“Prior to managed access there was this approach of cherry picking. So, you will have fishers who will only come, come to Lighthouse Reef to fish for conch for the opening. They will do two trips – harvesting and then you don’t see them until the following year. Yet, the stakeholders who fish here will have to stay behind and continue to fish with whatever stock remains.”

 

A few years ago, the WCS embarked on a national roll out of the program. As a result, fishing zones were created and fisherfolk selected which two areas they would use to fish. The Belize Audubon Society, Fisheries Department and other partners oversee the use and access of zone seven – the Lighthouse Reef Atoll.

 

Amanda Acosta

Amanda Acosta, Executive Director, Belize Audubon Society

“We know who the resource users are now. We have fisher folk who have to have the license that designate them for usage in this zone. And the vessels also now have to be demarcated for usage in this zone. So, it has helped us in terms of having a list of who are the fishers. Managed access, ultimately, you shouldn’t have too much mobility but the idea is that only you can fish that area too. So, if you don’t fish at Lighthouse and it is bad this year, you’re assured that next year it should be healthy, because no one else is fishing if you weren’t fishing.”

 

Limiting the number of fishers to specific zones has multiple benefits. The WCS reports that when the Managed Access program was introduced at the Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, infractions went from nine percent to four percent in four years. In other areas, like Lighthouse Reef, there is also good news.

 

Shane Young

“Them seeing the benefits of having that closed access where only they have access to the fishing grounds. But, more so looking at the production and the harvesting. And the amount of conch and the amount of lobster that they are delivering, they have seen an increase. And of course there may be some that disagree but a majority of them have said that they have seen a productive lobster season out at Lighthouse reef this year.”

 

And many fishermen see the value of the managed access program. It was a tough sell at first – but over the years fishermen have started to see the benefits.

 

Eli Tun

Eli Tun, Fisherman, Chunox Village

“It works good works good because they protect the – like conch right now is closed and they protect the conch. Now, when lobster closed they protect the lobster and when it opens it is good because you catch lotta lobster.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Over the years, have you had any experience when you go to an area and you can’t catch anything?”

 

Eli Tun

“Yes. You can see the difference when they protect the reserves.”

 

But the program is by no means a perfect solution to some of the challenges to fisheries management in Belize.  A big part of the data gathered is done by way of these log books – which fisherfolk must use if they want to obtain a license. But they can also underreport their catch or manipulate the system. And if illegal fishing is not properly controlled, it can throw off the balance of this management system.

 

Amanda Acosta

“At the end of the trip, our staff is then to board the vessel, validate what this log sheet has and then sign off on it. But like you are saying, they are not always up to date. There is a glitch in that a lot of these fisherfolk also go to Turneffe and they will come and say that, ‘I am not at the end of my trip’ but we say that ‘you are at the end of zone seven so that is a loophole that we are trying to close right now with the fisheries department. We’ve informed them that this is something that we have identified as a weakness, in that we are not validating all of those log sheets. One of our concerns is also them filling it out. We have a lot of Spanish speakers and the log books are in English. We also have recommended that some keys be developed in terms of like data keys, pictures of the fish and what are the names of the fish, because in Spanish the fish might have different names. And so Fisheries has already developed some of these and so we are working to get this information out.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“And then you also have the issue of illegal fishing – which is a problem for the whole concept of managed access?”

 

Amanda Acosta

“Exactly. So, illegal fishing is always kind of a side – it throws off the entire – if you had a beautiful theory and you had it all laid out, illegal fishing is kind of the side deviation that comes out of nowhere that can’t throw the entire game off. Illegal fishing has to be deterred and curbed if we really want to see the true status. For instance, if I am talking about conch and all the data is showing conch in Lighthouse will have a very good season when the season opens in October, we are seeing a lot of young juveniles and we are having a high production of conch products, so we can then indicate to Fisheries and fishers that it is looking really good. However, if we have a lot of illegal fishing, out of season, undersize, and that is obviously not reported, then that will throw off the entire numbers.”

 

But despite the kinks that need to be ironed out, this model has been recognized as an important tool to help safeguard and better manage resources.

 

Shane Young

“So, managed access is being seen as a model throughout the wider Caribbean and around the world. It is a new approach to fisheries management and Belize has been a leader and continues to be a leader as it relates to the implementation of Managed Access.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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