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BTT Expanding Presence in Belize

Anglers fish the flats of Cayo Rosario, which is under threat from proposed development. Photo: Jess McGlothlin

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust began working in Belize in 2006 with fisheries science focused on juvenile bonefish habitat. This work soon expanded to a focus on tagging adult bonefish, tarpon, and permit to identify their home ranges and movement patterns. Doing so enabled BTT to begin working with Belizean partners to prioritize conservation of habitats important to a thriving flats fishery. Recognizing the economic and cultural importance of the flats fishery, the Belizean government established catch-and-release regulations for bonefish, tarpon, and permit in 2009, a conservation measure supported BTT. In 2013, an economic impact assessment by BTT determined that the catch-and-release flats fishery generates 112 million Belizean Dollars annually, underscoring the need to conserve it and ensure its sustainability.

In recent years, BTT has strengthened important partnerships with Belize’s angling community and resource managers, and is now developing its science-based conservation policy with the primary aim of integrating habitat protection and restoration in fishery management plans. In developing policy objectives, BTT is pursuing an inclusive approach, conducting meetings across sectors, to include industry and conservation partners, all levels of the Belizean government, and flats fishing stakeholders, including the guide community, lodges, and the wider tourism sector. This assessment work will enable BTT to further develop partnerships with resource managers, including the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA), at the geographic-level and in establishing conservation policy goals country-wide.

It’s important to note that at this early stage of conservation program development, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust has not recommended any no fishing zones to Belize (Government, Management Bodies, or other sectoral actors). In preliminary meetings with partners, BTT has learned of capacity building needs at the resource manager level (where BTT plans to play a direct supportive role with science and funding), as well as opportunities for potential direct government partnerships. BTT is working to determine the most productive way to contribute to multiple national planning processes managed by the Government of Belize. These include but are not limited to The Nature Conservancy’s Blue Loan Agreement and Marine Spatial Planning Process, and World Wildlife Fund’s Coastal and Marine Project Finance for Permanence.

Meanwhile, BTT continues to support Belizean guides as they push back against unwise coastal development that threatens the flats fishery and the communities that depend on it. Alongside the angling community, BTT has advocated against the development of Blackadore Caye, Cayo Rosario, and Deadman’s Caye at Turneffe Atoll. BTT is encouraged by the groundswell of opposition by guides and lodges, and will continue to play role an important role in organizing the angling community against future unwise development. Watch this space for ways to engage as BTT further defines its conservation and policy goals in Belize at the local and national level.