Protecting the Fisheries of Belize

Belizean fisherman

Managed Access zones have greatly improved sustainable fishing activities in the Caribbean waters surrounding Belize. (Photo credit: Witold Skrypczak/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images)

The Central American country of Belize, which shares its eastern border with the Caribbean Sea, is well known for its coral reefs and abundant marine life. Belize is a major exporter of lobster, conch, and shrimp and the fisheries industry is a top contributor to the nation’s economy. However, in recent years, open-access fishing has led to a significant decline in overall yield. New fishery management techniques are proving successful in both preventing overfishing and empowering local fishers within the territories they fish.

A collaboration between the Belizean government, fishers, social organizations, and several non-governmental organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) led to the development of Managed Access zones, which use a system called Territorial Rights Use for Fishing, or TURF. This system gives a fisher or group of fishers a specific territory in which to fish. As a result of being granted access to a dedicated marine zone, the fishers have an incentive to protect it and manage the resources in a sustainable manner, in order to ensure a healthy population to maintain or increase future yields. According to EDF reports, 70 percent of Belizean fishers report catching more fish now that Managed Access zones have been put into place.

In July 2011, the Belizean government began a Managed Access program within Port Honduras and Glover’s Reef marine reserves. This program was conducted with help from EDF, the Wilderness Conservation Society (WCS), and the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE).

There are two major steps to the Managed Access program. First, the fishers who should be granted access must be identified. The criteria for access include holding Belizean citizenship and having a history of using the area and landing their catch in Belize. Second, patrols of the Managed Access zones must be made regularly to ensure that only those with authorized access are commercially fishing the zones.

Self-policing in these TURF-reserves is particularly important because Belize only has 70 fisheries enforcement officers to patrol the country’s 240 miles of Caribbean coast and more than 200 islands. Because there are so few people to patrol the nation’s waters, enforcement officers are now employing drones to combat unauthorized fishing. In June 2014, the Belize fisheries department, in collaboration with WCS and Conservation Drones, launched a pilot project with the goal of someday employing an entire fleet of drones to monitor fishing activities in the region’s waters. Enforcement officials hope that just the news of such a program will act as a deterrent to potential violators.

The goal of the Managed Access program is to expand to eight marine reserves by the end of 2015. Thus far it has been an unmitigated success. Illegal fishing has drastically decreased–in some cases as much as 60 percent–while fishing yields have increased.

More to Explore

Belize Inaugurates New Managed Access Program to Prevent and End Overfishing
Community-based fishery management delivers individual and collective benefits in Belize
How Belize is tipping the scales for sustainable fishing worldwide
Sustainable Fishing in Belize – Implementing Managed Access Fishery
Managed Access
Incentives & Barrier Removal Workshops with Fishers [pdf]

Country: Belize

Location: Belize is located in Central America. It is bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the east, Guatemala to the west, and Mexico to the northwest.

Area: 22,966 sq km (land and water) (slightly smaller than Massachusetts)

Climate: Belize has a tropical, hot and humid climate. The rainy season runs from May to November, and the dry season runs from February to May.

Terrain: The terrain of Belize is characterized by flat, swampy coastal plains and low mountains in the south.

Natural Resources: Arable land, fish, hydropower, and timber

Economics: $2.942 billion (est. 2014)

Environmental Issues: Agricultural runoff, deforestation, industrial effluents, solid and sewage waste disposal, water pollution from sewage

Source: CIA – The World Factbook (

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