BELMOPAN, Belize (CMC) — Ministers from the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom), and the Organisation for Fisheries and Aquaculture of the Central American Isthmus (OSPESCA) have ended a two-day meeting here agreeing on a comprehensive roadmap for future collaboration.
The meeting, which was also attended by officials from the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), also adopted the Belize Declaration that called on donor countries and organisations to "provide technical and financial support for the implementation of the joint CRFM/OSPESCA Action Plan".
CRFM executive director Milton Haughton said the long-term objective of the partnership "is to secure a brighter and more prosperous future for our fishing communities that rely on the marine resources for their livelihoods and ensuring that the fish stocks are able, through prudent management, to make enhanced contribution to the social and economic development of our countries".
CRFM and OSPESCA are the regional agents for the harmonisation of fisheries management and development efforts across 24 countries and the inaugural meeting here was to discuss "the plight of their shared marine resources and the uphill battle in fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Haughton said that IUU fishing, which he described as "a serious global problem", is being carried out in contravention of the rules for fisheries management.
"Recent reports put the global value of catches taken by IUU fishing as high as nine 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," said Haughton.
"We must therefore redouble our efforts to eradicate the scourge of IUU fishing from our region," he said, urging the need for coordinated approaches towards the conservation, management and sustainable use of trans-boundary fish stocks such as tunas, lobster, conch.
Bahamas Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government V Alfred Gray, said that the meeting should provide for greater cooperation among all stakeholders in the future.
"We are delighted to be partners in ensuring that countries around the Caribbean and indeed the 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 Gray, who is also chair of the CRFM's Ministerial Council.
"I am hoping that each of us as countries, each of us as individuals, will 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."
Belize Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development Lisel Alamlla said his country, which belongs to both the CRFM and OSPESCA, is "interested in collaborating with all the countries to ensure the best use and best management of our fisheries resources.
"We can advance and support building trust between the regions, and I think that is the opportunity that Belize has and the responsibility that it has, really," Alamilla added.
Pro-tem chair of OSPESCA and Vice President of the Nicaraguan Institute of Fisheries, Danilo Rosales Pichardo, said he was pleased with the outcome of the two-day meeting and the action plan coming would guide the way forward.
"It is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. In my opinion, 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 (Memorandum of Understanding) to formalise 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."