In a monumental victory for ocean lovers, conservationists and campaigners, the Caribbean nation of Belize has permanently banned all forms of the destructive and controversial fishing practice of bottom-trawling.
The process involves dragging a weighted 100-metre-wide net across the seafloor, which ‘strip-mines’ everything in its path, including endangered deep-sea creatures and cold-water corals that have taken thousands of years to grow. The catch is hauled to the surface where up to 90% is thrown back over the side as waste.
There are in fact no more than 200 trawling vessels worldwide, but the damage they cause to ancient ecosystems is so profound, it can be seen from space.
“This is far more than merely over fishing,” says Oceana, the marine conservation group who played a major role in lobbying the Belize government to impose the ban. “It is literally wiping out our oceans.”
Belize is one of only three countries in the world, after Venezuela and the Pacific nation of Palau, to implement a ban on bottom-trawling. The legislation, which came into force on December 31 2010, will help preserve the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef system in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Oceana, who have been working with commercial and recreational fishing bodies, the White House, scientists, ocean policy managers and lawyers for many years, recognised that compensation for local fishermen was crucial to the success of their campaign. With this in mind, the organisation negotiated with Belize prime minister Dean Barrow and the Northern Fishermen Co-operative to buy back the country’s trawling vessels.
‘It’s not really about saving fish,” announced American actor, conservationist and Oceana board member, Ted Danson, at the signing of the legislation. “It’s about saving fishermen and creating jobs, because if you destroy your reef, you would end up losing your tourism; you would end up losing the ability for fishermen to have their children fish.” He added that the ban was a huge step forward for the country as well as for everyone, because the Belize Barrier Reef feeds a vast portion of the western world.
Chaa Creek, Belize’s pioneer sustainable ecotourism resort, applauded their Government in instituting the ban, which will protect the country’s World Heritage status. Three of the Western Hemisphere’s four offshore coral islands, including the famous Blue Hole, are located in Belizean waters, making the area an invaluable resource for divers, snorkellers and researchers from around the world.
It is hoped that the legislation in Belize will encourage other fishing nations to follow suit.