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May 28, 2013

A trawler’s story: OCEANA gives new life to vessel and Coop.

OCEANA acquired two fishing trawlers when Belize passed legislation to effectively ban bottom trawling back in 2011. The first trawler, Northern One, is safely with the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute for research purposes. Northern Two now has a new home; it was handed over for a dollar on Saturday to the Placencia Fishing Cooperative for a seaweed farming project which is hoped will fetch much more for the community. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports from Placencia.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

What can you get for a dollar these days?  Well, a trip to your local grocery store can fetch a pack of Emperador biscuits, a bottle of purified water and even a combination of a pen and a pad.  But, if you’re a proponent of environmental awareness and realize the importance of preserving or sustainably harvesting our marine resources then a buck can get you a twenty-three foot trawler.


Northern II is a forty-two-year-old vessel that was once the property of Northern Fishermen’s Cooperative.  In 2011, following a ban on the destructive practice of bottom trawling, this steel fishing boat was acquired by Oceana in Belize.


Audrey Matura-Shepherd

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President, OCEANA Belize

“We actually came into possession of those trawlers when we had to negotiate with the Northern Fishermen’s Cooperative, who, as part of the negotiation and part of their condition to supporting the ban of all forms of trawling was that we would purchase the trawlers.  And once we purchased the trawlers then of course it became ours but we’re not into any kind of fishing activity.  We had no use for them and we really wanted to donate it back to the community for something that would be sustainable and useful and so we had to wait around until we got the right project.”


Seaweed farming is being developed as an option to improve economic conditions and to reduce fishing pressure and over-exploited fisheries.  It is used widely as a food source, as well as an export commodity for the making of gel and other carrageen products.


Sydney Lopez Jr.

Sydney Lopez Jr., Chairman, Placencia Producers Cooperative

“So far we are only doing the dried process and the gel form.  The gel looks like this.  I think you may have seen it already.  It’s soaked in water for an overnight and it turns into a gel, from this to this and this is what most people use in their seaweed shakes and for the food, smoothies and all.”


That initiative originated in the south, where the Placencia Producers Cooperative is currently undertaking a seaweed harvesting project.  The proposal to obtain the trawler was drafted by Lisa Carne on behalf of its membership.


Lisa Carne

Lisa Carne, Marine Biologist

“When the fishermen saw the trawlers back in Mango Creek just sitting there unused they came up with the idea to first get the nets to assist with actual farming processes.  They’ve been modifying the methodology, improving on existing methodology.  So we started by asking for the nets and Oceana said yes and then when we realized that the trawlers didn’t really have a use the fishermen asked me to approach Oceana about actually donating the trawler and the purpose of the trawler now is so that they can stay on the remote seaweed farm locations and not use that fuel and time to go back and forth on a daily basis.”


Production at this time is not much but with plans to grow the industry, monthly harvests will increase significantly.


Sydney Lopez Jr.

“Right now we produce like maybe two hundred pounds a month dried, and that’s all we could [do] with the current farms that we have.  We plan to double that for the expansion project and annually we plan to add maybe twenty farms per year after that.”


To facilitate that growth a check for one Belize dollar was handed over to Oceana.  The trawler will then be retrofitted to accommodate the specific needs and usage of its crew.  In truth however, Northern II is a donation to the coop with some contractual obligations attached.


Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“I think it’s good to support the Placencia Cooperative because when we do that we support the community and we also support the tourism industry because two major industries have developed on the peninsula and they both compliment each other.  If we continue supporting the Placencia Cooperative I think we could bring a lot of attention to the work that we’ve been doing right now so that you, the reporters, can know that they’re just this little group yes but they’re innovative and they’re moving forward and I think by paying attention they will get a lot of help.”


The method of placing nets of synthetic material which effectively doubled the production of cultivated seaweed was improved by the Japanese in the 1940s.  The practice, nonetheless, can result in several environmental problems since mangroves can be cut down to use as stakes to tie the nets.  This, in turn, not only reduces the water quality but it also depletes mangrove biodiversity. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.


Both trawlers were acquired from the Northern Fishermen Cooperatives as part of the deal to ban deep sea fishing using nets.

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1 Response for “A trawler’s story: OCEANA gives new life to vessel and Coop.”

  1. Storm says:

    I’m happy to see the trawlers being used instead of just sitting to rot over time, or being taken/stolen/acquired by some politician. I hope the Cooperative can develop the project into a profitable new industry — Belize needs innovative workers.

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