Dangriga Town – known as the ‘culture capital’ of Belize – is a vibrant coastal community nestled amongst the hills and valleys of southern Belize. Tales of its rich heritage can be seen, heard, and felt throughout the town’s streets through its authentic Garifuna music. Like most coastal communities in Belize, Dangriga is home to small-scale fishers who spend half their lives at sea. They have fished the southern waters of Belize for generations to provide for their families. I am honored that our team has the opportunity to network with and provide support to the men and women of this resilient fishing community, which remains interested and engaged in sustainable marine management despite significant barriers to their active participation.
Small-scale fishers are unsung heroes and important front-line food providers for the nation. However, the underrepresentation and exclusion of fishers from decision making processes directly impact their livelihoods. To change things, our Belize team set a goal of supporting fisher-led organisations to engage more effectively with fisheries management and conservation through technical and institutional support. The support provided depends on the organisation’s needs and includes help with organisational administration, internal and external communications, and data collection for marine management.
We have formed our first partnership with the Wabafu Fishermen Association based in Dangriga. ‘Wabafu,’ which translates to ‘our power’ in the Garifuna language – is a name that proudly represents the Garifuna heritage. The members deeply value fishing as a long-standing cultural tradition. On a breezy Wednesday evening on the first of September, 2021, on a sandy beach, we held a meeting near the Bridge foot fish market while following COVID-19 protocols. Meeting other people in person was a major highlight, and I was excited to be part of this meeting to listen to the fishers and explain what support we could offer to the association.
The executive members unanimously agreed to sign an MOU (memorandum of understanding – a written agreement outlining partnership responsibilities and goals) between the fisher association and Blue Ventures – a huge success from this meeting and an exciting milestone for Wabafu and us.
This partnership is the first of many that will drive change in community-based conservation and better equip fishers to engage and become proactive in fisheries management directly.” – Maritza Rodriguez, Fisheries and Livelihoods Manager.
After the meeting, we spent a few more days in Dangriga, engaging the Wabafu members and learning about their lives as southern fishers. I was most impressed by the association’s leadership and their presence and inclusion of female fishers. I felt empowered and inspired by Ms. Dawsons’ strong leadership capabilities and commitment to the Wabafu association. Collectively, the group is united on becoming more proactive in engaging with their community and improving participation in fisheries management.
There is always strength in togetherness, and an extra hand puts any organisation closer to success when they share the same vision and purpose.” –Teasha Dawson, Wabafu member
Our team has been operating in Belize since 2010. Belize is at the forefront of marine conservation initiatives in both Latin America and the Caribbean region. However, there is a need for fisher associations to be supported in three key areas to strengthen their engagement in marine conservation and fisheries management. These areas include communications, governance, and institutional management, and practical training in fisheries management. Our focus is to rely on Blue Ventures’ experience of supporting civil society organisations in the Coral Triangle and the Western Indian Ocean to support fishers’ associations in Belize in these three key areas.
I appreciate the support that Blue Ventures has extended to our association. For the past years, we have been down and out, but thanks to this partnership, Wabafu will see progress better than ever.” – Ms. Veronica Tun, Treasurer of Wabafu.
As someone with a keen interest in community-based conservation, I am elated that our team has embarked on this journey to support Wabafu and the other associations we will partner with soon. Through improved communications and better organisation, Belizes’ fisher associations strengthen fishers’ involvement in management and nurture a collective voice. As a result, fishers will be able to influence, defend and promote their rights, build their networks to coordinate and reinforce each other’s actions and mobilise support from civil society.
Practicing good governance and management increases engagement with regional networks. We aim to raise awareness on the protection of national flora and fauna. We also hope to support the community in achieving their goals through policy reform, building equitable supply chains, and taking collective action to rebuild their fisheries at the local and national levels. The unity and commitment of this association inspire me to continue my work with fishers of Wabafu and to see the positive changes that will result from this partnership.
By Ronalee McKenzie (Fisheries Coordinator), Belize.