Over 60 high-level delegates from 18 countries across the Central America and Carib-bean regions concluded a milestone meeting in Belize on Tuesday resulting in the signing of the Belize Declara-tion on Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) aimed at harmonizing fisheries management and development across 24 states.
The event was the first joint meeting to bring together as many countries to discuss the plight of their shared marine resources and the battle in fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, a press release from the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism Secretariat said. The CRFM and the Central America Fisheries and Aquaculture Organisation (Spanish acronym OSPESCA) are the regional agents for the coordinating fisheries management and development efforts in 24 countries.
CRFM Executive Director Milton Haughton said the long-term objective of the partnership between the CRFM and OSPESCA is to secure a brighter and more prosperous future for fishing communities that rely on the marine resources for their livelihoods and ensuring that fish stocks are able, through prudent management, to make enhanced contribution to the social and economic development of the related countries.
“We are delighted to [partner] …ensuring that countries around the Caribbean and indeed Central and South American region have seen the wisdom of getting together and pooling resources in order to protect what we consider to be a very important part of our countries’ very existence,” said V Alfred Gray, chair of the CRFM’s Ministerial Council, and Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government of The Bahamas. Gray was optimistic that “bigger and better things” would come out of the meeting and expressed hope that each individual and nation would be “ready to take on the challenges which we face collectively in protecting that which we believe is so important for fisher folk and indeed our countries’ revenue resources.”
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing
According to Haughton, IUU fishing is one of the major issues that the meeting deliberated. The CRFM Executive Director described IUU fishing as “a serious global problem” as it is conducted in contravention of the rules for fisheries management, misreporting catches or not reporting at all, and the use of illegal fishing rear and illegal fishing techniques.
“Recent reports put the global value of catches taken by IUU fishing as high as 9 billion dollars per year. IUU fishing does not respect national boundaries. It puts unsustainable pressure on fish stocks and marine habitats and distorts markets. It imposes significant economic costs on countries such as ours with limited capacity and it also corrupts and undermines governance structures,” he said, adding that partners must then redouble their efforts to eradicate the scourge of IUU fishing from the region. Haughton also said it was necessary to harmonize coordinated approaches for the conservation, management and sustainable use of trans-boundary fish stocks; namely tunas, lobster and conch.
Belize, the only country which belongs to both regions, plays an important role in the process. According to Lisel Alamilla, Belize Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Develop-ment, her country is interested in collaborating with all the other states to ensure the best use and best management of its fisheries resources.
“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 an MOU…to formalize the process can best be characterised 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,” she said.
The 18 countries which signed the Belize declaration are Anguilla, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Montser-rat, Nicaragua, Panama, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks and Caicos. Inter-national partners from ACP Fish II, The Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem Project, the SICA (Central American Integration and Caricom…) secretariats, as well as visitors from the FAO in Rome were among the observers. Belize fishermen’s cooperative reps also attended the event.
Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti and Suriname were not represented at the meeting and did not sign the declaration.