The BFF isn’t the only organization that is condemning the move that many believe may give way to illegal fishing in Belize’s territorial waters. Earlier today the Belize Progressive Party (BPP) issued a press release in which it condemned GOB’s decision to re-allow permanent residents to get commercial fishing licenses. According to the Party’s Deputy Political Leader Wil Maheia, the decision came like a thief in the night and does not provide any type of benefits to Belizean Fishers.
Will Mahea, BPP, Deputy Political Leader: “This thing came to us like a thief in the night. Nobody knew about it, there was not a press release sent out. I’ve talked to numerous fishermen, I’ve even talked to area representatives who have no idea about this SI so it’s like a thief in the night. I mean if you’re going to do an SI, you’re gonna have a press release, some consultations and things like that, none of that happened. I mean I’m here in the Toledo district. I’ve talked to several of the protected areas managers who manage marine protected areas none of them are aware of this SI. I’ve talked to the folks at the Belize Tourism Industry Association, Fisherfolks Association, nobody has an idea about this SI so it can’t be good. They’re trying to sneak this in like I said a thief in the night and we already have a crowded sea. This pandemic it’s not a good thing for Belize and a lot of Belizeans are struggling. A lot of Belizeans have become recreational fishermen or fisherfolk so that they could feed their own people. Now to add an mount of commercial fishermen and the record shows for itself these permanent residents they live on the Guatemalan side of the Sarstoon they don’t live in Belize and we do such a poor job. When was the last time an arrest was made for illegal fishing by the Fisheries Department ? It’s been a while especially here in the Toledo district or in southern Belize. So the resources the monitor our area is very very scarce now to add insult to injury is to now allow foreign fishermen to come and get license to compete with the local and national fishermen ? We’re calling on the prime minister. I know that elements within the government might be trying to undermine the good work of the prime minister but you know we must bring a stop to this. You can’t have an SI without consultation it’s absolutely crazy. It’s ridiculous, so we’re calling on the prime minister, we’re calling on all the agencies involved to really have a sit and chat with the Minister of the Blue Economy. This was something that was rammed down our throat, it’s not good for Belize. It’s just two weeks before the lobster season so you could know something fishy is happening to have this just before lobster season opens up, this is not good for the Belizean people.”
While both organizations argue that the move will give way for illegal fishers to plunder out resources the Ministry of the Blue Economy says otherwise. This evening, Minister of the Blue Economy Andre Perez invited the media over to shed some light on the move and to clarify their decision. According to Perez, the decision doesn’t seek to undermine the over three thousand license Belizeans Fishers but its goal is to form a more inclusive way to involve permanent residents living in the country.
Hon. Abner “Andre” Perez, Minister of the Blue Economy & Civil Aviation: “They keyword is inclusion. That we are a free country. A democratic country, that people have rights in this country and we as Belizeans embrace our people who are living here legally, who are resident they are entitled to rights to do, they have a right to live, they have families and it doesn’t matter where they come from. If they are legally a resident of this country we as a government and as a nation we have responsibility to provide them the rights. They have integrated themselves into this community they have blended wherever they come from and if they want to fish the laws before did not allow them, provide for them to fish and how will they provide for their families if they have children that are Belizeans they are being marginalized. So in the rush of things when that SI was passed many people were left out behind. So we from this new government and the Ministry of Blue Economy we have a mandate, we have a responsibility to right things, to fix things and every time we make these decisions they are very much informed, we have done our due diligence. For the record just to let you know the record will show prior to that there are only about forty four registered fisherfolk with residency so to put the blame on them to say that they are the ones who are overfishing this place right here I think is going the wrong road and that is what I want to clarify. That I think it’s high time that we as a nation open our eyes, that we have a right to live here. Actually we can be taken to court if you’re depriving somebody of rights because the law states that you cannot fish even though you are not a Belizean but you are resident so it’s in that context that we have to look at that. We have to include everyone here and that’s really the goals that we have in the blue economy, inclusion. What we are doing right now is basically fixing things. Let me give you two examples. In the beginning when we just started I visited especially the gill net banning we went to visit the village of Sarteneja and right there is were I was immediately approached by a family who are Belizean the children everybody but the husband who is a resident cannot fish and it’s a big family so how do you tell that family you cannot do fishing ? Literally no kind of fishing ? How will he sustain his family and including that the gillnet had been included in there so how do you do that. This week I was in Caye Caulker visiting my constituency, I have a family there who live up north in Caye Caulker the wife came in personally to thank me for that reason in there to say that we made the change because she is a Belizean, her children, her daughter just graduated from school, came to thank that finally her husband will be able to fish legally to apply for that license and he’s a resident of this country he has been here for twenty five years and he’s resident. So think along those lines. I think that’s where we need to go it’s inclusion, it is not about putting in danger anything with illegal fishing that is how I see it.”
Perez also noted that the reason no consultation was done is that he believes the issue did not warrant any of that being done due to a low number of permanent resident fishers that previously held licenses.