Minister Amends Law to Benefit Family and Friends

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Andre Perez

A number of interested parties have taken up issue with the Minister of the Blue Economy, Andre Perez, after he amended a statutory instrument to allow non-Belizeans to be able to fish in Belizean waters. The Belize Federation of Fishers which represents 12 associations and has some 600 members, is among those organizations most upset with the new S.I. 57 of 2021. The S.I. was Gazetted on May 29th.
The Guardian spoke to the president of the organization, Nigel Martinez, who explained that the S.I. was done without consultation with the fisher folks. He pointed out that the S.I. which was in place before, Number 81 of 2019, was signed after careful consultation with all stakeholders to protect and safeguard the Belizean fishing industry. That S.I. restricted non-Belizeans from being issued a fisherman’s license.
Appearing on 7 News on Tuesday, June 22, was Andre Perez who admitted that he changed the S.I. to benefit his friends and family. He stated that “This week I was in Caye Caulker visiting my constituency. I have a family there who lives up north in Caye Caulker; the wife came in personally to thank me for that reason there that we made the change because she is a Belizean, her daughter just graduated from school – that finally her husband will be able to fish legally to apply for a license and he is a resident of this country. He has been here for 25 years.”
And while Perez made an adjustment to suit his family members, Martinez pointed out that most of the damage being done to the fishing industry is taking place in the southern part of the country. He stated that persons who have residency in Belize will use that to get a fishing license. They will then be given the same privileges of Belizeans of taking from the sea, bringing in no direct benefit to the country. Instead, the produce will be taken out of the country to places like Honduras and Guatemala.
Martinez points out that Belizean fishermen have worked hard to protect fishing grounds. They know where no-take zones and protected areas are but this does not apply to non-Belizeans. “We are facing transboundary issues where they travel our waters unimpeded, take products bringing no economic benefit to the country. This is compounded by the fact that the fishing grounds are small,” stated Martinez.
Also speaking to the Guardian was a fisherman, Dale Fairweather, who explained that there are simply too many fishers. The pandemic, he said, has increased the pressure on the resource, adding some 500 more fisher folks. While he is not against Belizeans being granted licenses, the issue of foreigners fishing in Belizean waters is a serious one. He said that since 2019 when the old S.I. was in place, there was a reduction in fishermen coming into southern waters from neighboring Honduras and Guatemala to fish. With the changing of the S.I. he fears that all the work to improve the fishing stock will be lost.
He also pointed out that with more fishermen out at sea it creates problems of piracy and even murder. He added that enforcement is also a major issue.