Belize Enforcement Crew with Haughton and McCalla
BELIZE CITY, Belize -- The enforcement of fisheries laws is a major challenge all across the region, but a new initiative funded by the European Union (EU), through the ACP Fish II Programme, promises to ensure that fisheries personnel, police, coast guard and other relevant enforcement authorities will be more adequately equipped to curb practices which threaten to undermine the sustainability of the fisheries sector and food security across the region.
Acting on a recommendation from the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), the ACP Fish II project has commissioned two regional experts: Dr Winston McCalla of Jamaica and Ambassador Joseph Daven of Antigua, to build on the successes of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) by revamping and expanding two procedural manuals to cater to the demands of a broader regional regime envisioned in the Caribbean Community Common Fisheries Policy.
More specifically, the experts are working with CARIFORUM states to strengthen the capacity of their enforcement officers and agencies to conduct fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) and to enforce fisheries law.
CRFM executive director, Milton Haughton, affirmed: "We want to strengthen their capacities so that they are more effective at prosecuting offences against the Fisheries Act, and there are various types: There are illegal unreported and unregulated activities that's done by local fishers; there are illegal activities that's done by foreign fishers -- foreign fishers from within the Caribbean region, as well as foreign fishers from further off -- the distant water fishing nations. We want to deal with the problem at all levels; however, a major weakness in the Caribbean region is the fact that our capacity is limited on the enforcement side, and very often offenses are not successful in the courts because the proper procedures are not followed.”
To address this enforcement lacuna, McCalla is leading the revision of the OECS Fisheries Prosecution Manual and the OECS Standard Operating Procedures Manual, both produced by the OECS in 1997. The draft regional documents -- prepared with input from the countries -- will be circulated across CARIFORUM states later this month for further feedback.
McCalla explained, “What is intended is really this: that with the updated manuals, that we would strengthen the training of individuals -- there would be common training for persons within the CARIFORUM; countries that have more advanced developments would share that with others -- and that the training mechanism will become more consistent throughout the region. So we'd hope that the enforcement mechanisms will be strengthened, because without enforcement the laws become meaningless. And that is the heartland of the project."
Elaborating on the scope of the enforcement project, Haughton said, "It will address the issue of organizing the surveillance system, it will address issues of how you approach a suspect, how you board a vessel, how you record your information, how you collect your evidence, how you secure your evidence, how you keep your records and so on. It will cover everything, right through to action at the court level."
Belize is one of the CARIFORUM states that will benefit from the ACP Fish II project to upgrade and expand the prosecution manuals. Hampton Gamboa, supervisor of the Conservation Compliance Unit of the Belize Fisheries Department, sees this initiative as timely, since Belize is launching into cutting-edge surveillance technology with the planned introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles called conservation drones.
"I believe that the drone itself will assist us in doing a lot of what is required within the enforcement manual and definitely, again, it will offset a lot of the expense from an administrative point of view and also the manual itself is one that will have us to be more vigilant -- it will assist us in being more vigilant -- it will assist us in having much more presence, in terms of once we strategise the different areas -- problematic areas -- and we execute in terms of how the manual has been put together, it will definitely help us in curbing a lot of the illegal activity. And once we incorporate both the manuals and the drones together, we believe that within the next two years, three years, we'll see some tremendous growth in terms of enforcement as well as holding people accountable -- especially those who refuse to accept that the seasons are closed and are out doing illegal activities. I must say it's a welcome approach for us, and at the same time it helps us to strengthen what we have in place here in Belize."
The ACP Fish II Programme, in operation since 2009, is nearing completion, and it expects to have 193 projects -- including this latest effort to boost the region's enforcement capacity -- implemented before the end of November 2013.
Of note is that the revised draft manuals will be further refined at a validation workshop, which is scheduled to be held on 16-17 October 2013 in Grenada. The CARIFORUM states are expected to be in full attendance.