In Belize fisheries contributes to domestic food security, livelihoods, economic development and is an important part of the tourism product of Belize. Additionally, Fisheries ranks 4th in income earnings and contributes 3% to the country’s GDP (2016). Belize is committed to ensuring the sustainability of its small-scale fisheries and has implemented a model for small-scale fisheries management based on three main pillars.

First, Belize’s laws provide for protection of critical marine habitats and associated fish species. The Government of Belize has over the years established a coastal network of nine (9) marine reserves, three (3) marine national parks, two (2) natural monuments, twelve (12) fish spawning aggregations sites and two (2) marine wildlife sanctuaries that in total cover some 4,051 km² (or 21.6 % of our territorial seas). Of these protected areas, some 619 km² (3% of our territorial seas) are designated as Replenishment zones or No-take areas.

Managed Access Group Photo

The second pillar is developing an international scientific partnership to use a fisheries data-limited approach for setting harvest control rules on catches that will prevent and reverse overfishing. We are now employing this system for our Queen Conch fishery, to ensure we are meeting our obligations to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and Flora.

The last pillar of Belize’s fisheries management model is a fully implemented national system of marine tenure and zoning that Belize calls Managed Access. This management tool allocates fishing rights for Belize’s 3,000 traditional fishers and provides incentives for fishers to protect their fishing areas. The Managed Access system is unique – as it is a multispecies system of fishing rights that covers the entire territorial waters of Belize, which no other country in the world has achieved thus far. The following excerpt highlights additional details on the Managed Access Program and the approach the Belize Fisheries Department took to manage the small-scale fisheries in Belize.

As readers may or may not know, for many years Belize’s fisheries were considered an open access fishery and the threat of resource depletion was clearly indicated by fishermen whose catch was constantly declining. Moreover, as an open access fishery, there was still a risk of overfishing that threatened fishermen livelihoods, exports and the industry due to uncontrolled growth in the number of fishermen. July of 2011 marked a turning point in the history of fisheries management in Belize, as the Belize Fisheries Department (BFD) in partnership with Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) pioneered at two of its marine reserves the implementation of a rights-based approach to fisheries management called Managed Access.

Managed Access Fisheries Map

The program was designed to empower traditional fishers by ensuring greater participation in the decision-making process which impacts their livelihood, and by improving the benefits to be derived from the fish stocks in terms of increased fish landings, reduction in fishing effort, larger size classes and increased prices and revenues. In addition, in the long term, there will be benefits accrued to the ecosystem which will contribute to the maintenance of the overall health and sustainability of the Belize Barrier Reef complex. Key to the success of this program are several components which include, but are not limited to: improvements in the licensing/registry system and process; a good monitoring and fishery dependent catch data collection program; a dedicated presence of enforcement personnel and use of new enforcement technologies; and most importantly, the greater active involvement of fishers themselves in the program via fishing area based committees. All of which, coupled with an extensive social marketing campaign and consultation process has yielded significant success and benefits for the resource as well as the stakeholders.

For more details on the Managed Access Programme and national initiatives in Fisheries development, please feel free to contact the Belize Fisheries Department at:

Belize Fisheries Department
Coastal Zone Multi-Complex Building
Princess Margaret Drive
Belize City, Belize
Phone: +501-203-2623 / 224-4554

By: Felicia Cruz, Belize Fisheries Department