The philosopher Maimonides uttered prophetic words that have remained as true over time as they did when he said them–“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” His words were never truer that they are today in Belize, where over-fishing threatens the nation’s once-vibrant industry, leading to a decline in conch, reef fish and lobster catches.
Some nations might give up and accept the inevitable, but the Belize fishing community isn’t about to take this dramatic situation lying down—nor is the Belize government willing to give in either. The solution? Resurrecting a concept that’s been around almost as long as the Maimonides quote: Territorial Rights Use for Fishing (TURF).
With the implementation of this system, gone are the days of unrestricted, indiscriminate fishing practices responsible for the current problem. TURF simply gives the estimated 15,000 Belizean fisherman plying their trade dedicated areas in which to pursue their livelihood. With the establishment of these areas, responsibility lies with fisherman to abide by zoned ecosystems so marine life populations can return to their former bountiful states.
Is Belize the only nation to turn to this tried-and-true method of restoring coastal fishing waters? Hardly. Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Mozambique and the Philippines faced the same depletion crisis and adopted the TURF system supported by the Environmental Defense Fund. Some nations have even declared “no-take” areas that prohibit all fishing until marine life numbers begin to increase.
How are the fishermen of Belize responding to this new system? Positively—because they will be the recipients of the benefits of restored stock and because they’ve already seen how fast cessation of overfishing specific zones and establishing no-take areas can reverse this tide. Current research proves that, for example, in a no-take reserve, fish and crustacean populations quadruple, while they double outside these designated areas.
With the support of the marine biology community, the Belize government and the nation’s fishermen, overfishing can, with a concerted effort, finally end as proven by two experimental TURF projects that were set up in Belize in 2012 just to see if it could be done. As a result of the experiment, illegal fishing activity dropped 60-percent as 80-percent of Belizean fisherman complied and are reporting positive catch numbers.
Goals have been set. Pilot programs launched. In concert, everyone benefits—even the tourism industry! At Chabil Mar, Placencia’s award-winning resort where fishing expeditions for guests have been extremely popular excursions, this news was met with great excitement since the resort had just received its Green Globe certification and applauds such efforts.
Because the ocean’s fish population is being restored thanks to TURF, Chabil Mar can continue to offer its extremely popular fishing package and there’s great news greeting guests who arrive eager to grab fishing gear and pursue their favorite sport: Around 70-percent of Belize fishermen report catching more fish since this system was instituted—which portends plenty of luck for guests of Chabil Mar, too!
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