Members of the National Fishers Cooperative, in collaboration with other partners in the fishing industry are now using electronic traceability as a way of improving their product as well as fisheries management. The work is a collaboration with the Fisheries Department and the Nature Conservancy which started in 2017. It employs the use of tablets to electronically track conch and lobster that is brought to the cooperative, collecting real time data that links catch to individual fishers and Managed Access regions. Julie Robinson, Belize Oceans Strategy Lead at the Nature Conservancy explains the project.
Julie Robinson Belize Oceans Strategy Lead, The Nature of Conservancy: “For the first time ever in Belize we are now able to capture landings information. We are able to tell you what is caught, when it is caught, where it came from, who caught it using what gear and all of that goes into an electronic system that is made available for: first of all internal tracking within the Co op but it also made available to the Fisheries Department for Fisheries management in real time. This is empowering both Fisheries management but it is also empowering the cooperative and it is making what our primary interest because really we are a conservation organization but we also understand that a part of conservation is about people working with the fishing cooperatives, working with the fishers and for them at the end of the day it is really about what goes into their pocket at the end of the day and how much they are making so if we want fishers to be able to do the right thing and go okay you know what I am not going to take that lobster that is a little undersized. I am not going to take that conch that is out of season but I still need to feed my family so the whole idea behind the system is that we are going to be putting in essentially an accounting system whereby I won’t touch that lobster but I know that if I do the right thing when I do it that information is caught electronically. It is put into a system and will eventually be placed… as Mr. Rodriguez mentioned there is a phase one and a phase two. The consumer ending part of this which is the trace platform will then allow a consumer like yourself to go and scan a code with your phone and it will tell you where that product came from and Belize we are just trying to get our food into that niche market of being able to brand our product and that is what the system is doing. This is where we are starting and it is a great start. Within another year within another two years we will be able to tell you specifically what is in that box and where it came from and who caught that lobster tail that is on your plate.”
The system will eventually linked to the fisheries data base allowing officials to be able to monitor and manage access zones for more efficient management. Minister of Agriculture Godwin Hulse and Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade say it is an initiative that the government supports fully.
Minister Godwin Hulse: “And the Ministries perspective particularly where the Ministry is concerned is of the utmost importance. I say that because it is not only in the fishing industry but we are looking at it also in agriculture, we are looking at it in cattle and everything. We have been successful so far with cattle. We have a registry where we are attempting to do that. We have just taken a large group of farmers to Salvador so that they can understand this process with vegetables: beans, carrots, potatoes that we were asked about a while ago and that sort of thing. Again being able to trace it from the farm all the way to your plate where it comes from so we know that objectionable herbicide and other things have not been used. Also important that no child labour was involved. That we did not by anyway short circuit what we should do to make sure the product is wholesome. Now each day traceability is becoming a requirement to even export.”
Beverly Wade Fisheries Administrator: “All the lucrative new markets are now putting into place and sooner rather than later it will become a legal requirement that if you want to export to all the traditional market that we are exporting to we have to have traceability systems in place which is an excellent thing. It is something that allows us to highlight and validate all the good measures that we are doing here in Belize to show that we are a country which believes in sustainable seafood and we are a country which believes that we should still have a viable and sustainable seafood industry and that is why these folks here have put the investment in it and we want to encourage them to continue to do that.”
The National Fishers Cooperative has been using the technology at its processing plant at its Belize City office.