Belize adopts comprehensive fisheries reform law

Belize has formally adopted a law that will expand its marine protected areas establish a national fishing rights system for its small-scale fishermen.

The new law was passed by the Senate of Belize on 20 January and formalizes the country’s adoption of an ecosystem-based management approach. The legislation also creates a fisheries advisory council in order to allow  fishing communities to more actively participate in decision-making, specifically around enforcement of fishing laws, licensing, data collection, and the co-management of marine reserves.

The council will also oversee the Managed Access program, a rights-based management measure that was established in 2016 and which came into effect in 2017. Under the Managed Access program, Belize has experienced a significant drop in illegal fishing and an improvement in the health of its reefs, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

“Belize is an example to the world,” EDF Oceans Program Senior Vice President Eric Schwaab said in a press release. “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.”

EDF has worked with the Belize Fisheries Department and the Wildlife Conservation Society since 2011 to enact reforms affecting its marine sector. Schwaab said the enactment of the new law will put in place a more effective fisheries management process, enable science-based methods for monitoring and managing fish populations, and establish more robust enforcement measures for illegal fishing, including vessel monitoring system technology.

Belize Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade said in a WCS press release the law represents another significant step by Belize to empower its fishing communities to sustainably manage themselves, while enacting stronger protections for Belize’s unique and delicate marine environment.

“This new act is seated within the emerging paradigm shift in fisheries management in which the focus has extended beyond the immediate fish stocks being harvested, to the broader set of aquatic organisms for both marine and freshwater systems, as well as associated ecosystems; and the social dimensions and considerations associated with their responsible use,” she said. “This act will facilitate the collective impact of government, non-government organizations, and fishing associations and cooperatives working together as a mechanism for both effective implementation and strong social capital in communities.”

Photo courtesy of Mr. JK/Shutterstock


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