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Oceana Belize Launches the Fish Right Eat Right initiative

Fish right, Eat right! It’s an initiative by Oceana Belize to help seafood lovers know exactly where and when their seafood was caught. The program began in 2016 with a goal to enhance responsible fishing and help fishers to be more resilient. And, this year Oceana launched the pilot project on La Isla Bonita and invited the media to get a firsthand look at how it works. Reporter Vejea Alvarez has the story.

The snapper or lobster you enjoy goes a long way from the net to the plate. With the help of a newly introduced app called Fresca Pesca, you will have an idea of who caught it, where it was caught, and the quality of the marine products that’s in your fridge or at your favorite restaurant. According to Oceana’s outreach and project director, Jacinta Gomez all it takes is a simple scan of a QR code.

Jacinta Gomez, Project Director, Oceana: “The idea of fish right, eat right, which was launched back in 2016 is basically to include connect restaurants with fishers that are fishing responsibly and provide marketing incentives to those restaurants to be able to ask the correct questions when sourcing their fish. With funding from the Inter American Development Bank, we’ve been able to pilot technology for the first time in Central America. This technology is being provided by a company called Shell Catch, and it basically incorporates three different components, it’s E-monitoring, E-reporting, and E-marketing.”

The initiative also seeks to protect marine resources through responsible and sustainable fishing. Gomez says the magic happens through the collection of electronic data.

Jacinta Gomez, Project Director, Oceana:The way it works is a virtual observer is posted on to the fishing vessel where the fisher goes out and that captures the fishing activity. It also analyzes the fishing activity on the back end. When the fisher comes back in, they’re able to update a e-reporting app with the fishing data so key harvesting data like species, the gear they use, the amount of fish they caught, where they caught that fish, and all of this goes into the cloud, and it’s linked to that video of the actual fishing activity. They slap a label on their icebox and they bring that to their restaurant that they want to sell it to or they post it on a marketplace app where restaurateurs are able to browse and see the fish of the day, the catch of the day in real time as the fisher is posting it. When the restaurateurs receive that they’re able to scan that QR code, and that links to the QR codes that you see on the tables here in Elvie’s so that you as the consumers are able to come in here, dine, and have dinner and a show.”

And for the head chef at Elvi’s Kitchen, Jenny Staine,  the program makes it far way easier for restauranteurs like herself to source fish locally and do their part to ensure the fish stocks offer high quality shell and finfish. 

Jenny Staine, Head Chef, Elvi’s Kitchen: “Before the project started we had to call Belize City, sometimes go to pound yard bridge, wait from three o’clock until five because you have to come back home or spend the overnight in Belize City or try to source from people from Sarteneja. It was very difficult because these people come in and it’s first serve in Belize City -we’re way in San Pedro but it’s all about knowing people and trying to get people to sell you from all over the country and now we just have to call them a few weeks before, tell them the amount of fish we want and they will go out fish and we will know exactly what they’re catching because they have their cameras and we can know from when they’re out at sea what we will be getting.”

Another chef that’s been with the program from its start. Is Chef Amy Knox the owner of Wild Mangoes Restaurant, and she says, the app will help to curb illegal and unregulated fishing, and to help chefs know what exactly they’re getting,

Amy Knox, Owner, Wild Mangoes Restaurant: “Two, three years ago in January fish kind of run around and move to different areas and like in January usually snapper is hard to find and then there was once because of over fishing it was really hard to find in January and fishermen were selling fish bought in Mexico and bought farm raised tilapia and trying to sell it as they had caught their own snapper. So it makes you more aware of what fishermen are actually selling and trying to sell and being honest but also it makes me as a restauranteur and a chef to know what I’m getting as well as try to protect the species and be sustainable.”

The information also helps Oceana to get a better understanding of the local consumption of marine products and helps to promote best fishing practices.

“You can’t manage what you don’t know about so part of what we’re trying to do with this app is to be able to capture some of that data. Fisheries Department is a partner in this they are capturing that data as well so they then have the evidence they need to make better management decisions on different fin fish species so if we say you know there are spawning aggregation sites people are doing that research they see how much fish is coming out, what reproduction looks like so kind of what’s there, they understand fishing pressure, how many fishers, what types of gear, going into the water and through apps like this or collection mechanisms like these, they know what’s being served at least somewhat. Otherwise, there would be no way to know what’s being done.”

The app is available for download for all fishers and will soon be available for all consumers.