Belize bridges Regional Gap in Fisheries Industry Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 06 September 2012 00:00

Hon. Alfred Gray (Bahamas), Hon. Lisel Alamilla (Belize) and Hon. Danilo Rosales, (Nicaragua)Young Belizeans may not truly appreciate the significance of a recent regional meeting held at the Belize Biltmore Plaza. However, for historians and freedom fighters, Belize hosting a meeting that brings together Ministers of Governments from the Caribbean and Central America is a vision long dreamed and finally seen. The geographic location of Belize alone calls on the country to take its place as powerhouse in the region. Being the only country that is a member of CARICOM and SICA, Belize provides the opportunity for true regional integration.

In 1995, countries in Central America realized that the challenges facing the fishery industry were too much for individual countries to handle. Therefore, on December 18th, 1995 the Organization for Fisheries and Aquaculture of the Central American Isthmus (OSPESCA) was formed. OSPESCA’s main purpose is to “enhance sustainable development and management of fisheries and aquaculture by coordinated regional action, thereby strengthening the Central American integration process”. Similarly, on February 4th, 2002, CARICOM states signed the “Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM)”. The CRFM was then officially inaugurated on March 27th, 2003. Its primary purpose is to “promote the sustainable use of living marine and other aquatic resources by the development, efficient management and conservation of such resources among CARICOM states”.

The resources OSPESCA and CRFM are trying to protect fishries related interests throughout the region as the challenges both organizations face are common.Cognizant of the fact that both organizations share similar vision and goals, it was decided that the two should move forward in a collaborative effort. On September 3rd and 4th, over 60 high-level delegates from 19 countries spanning from across Central America and the Caribbean participated in a historic meeting in Belize. Ministers and Vice-Ministers along with their technical staff from CARICOM and Central American countries gathered to discuss the fight against the multibillion dollar “illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing” industry in the region.

According to an official press release from the CRFM Secretariat, one major outcome of the cross-regional meeting was the signing of the Belize Declaration on Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) and the Central America Fisheries and Aquaculture Organization (Spanish acronym OSPESCA) Cooperation for Sustainable Development of Fisheries and Aquaculture Resources. CRFM’s Executive Director, Milton Haughton, said, “The long-term objective of the partnership between the CRFM and OPSESCA is to secure a brighter and more prosperous future for our fishing communities that rely on the marine resources for their livelihoods, and to ensure that the fish stocks are able, through prudent management, to make enhanced contributions to the social and economic development of our countries now and in the future.”

Regional collaboration would provide several benefits to the industry. The most immediate is information sharing. Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, Lisel Alamilla said that Belize must play a huge role in ensuring that this collaboration is strengthened through information sharing. Being the only member country of OSPESCA and the CRFM, Belize can provide updates on the operations of both organizations, thereby guiding the joint efforts forward. Other objectives are the management and development of the living marine resources and ecosystems of the region to ensure social and economic benefits to the community; the sustainable fisheries through harmonized regional management of shared resources; the strengthened cooperation and collaboration and development of harmonized positions and the promotion of a viable fishing industry for the region.

Minister Alamilla said of the historic event, “In my opinion, I believe that what we have accomplished thus far, and what we are expected to accomplish in terms of the Belize Declaration and the accompanying action plan and a Memorandum of Understanding to formalize the process can best be characterized as a great leap forward for the sustainable development of our people and the fishery resources of the CARICOM sub-region as well as the SICA sub-region.”