The Belize dollar doesn’t buy much these days. But that’s all the Placencia Producers Cooperative Society paid on Saturday to own what to them is an important piece of equipment. Two fishing trawlers were bought for a total of $800,000 by OCEANA in Belize’s parent company, Oceana International, through donations. Some of the money went to pay off debts, and in 2012 one of the trawlers went to the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute. The other, the “Northern II”, a 103-ton 22 by 6 by 3 three-engine beast first built in 1971, was handed over to the society on Saturday. The Cooperative Society, now 51 years old, is aiming to move into new markets as the stock of fish and seafood products dwindles, and one of them is seaweed harvesting. Cooperative president Sydney Lopez explains the necessity and importance of the vessel.
Sydney Lopez – Cooperative President:
We used to harvest seaweed a long time ago, but it was harvest from the wild, but not sustainable. We wanted to do something that would keep giving, so we formed a proposal. We got a grant in 2010. Then we started a pilot project. That lasted for like 18 months. We had a lot of delays, weather, Government, and finally we got going 18 months ago. We have not completed the pilot project, and we’re now into the second phase which is going to be our expansion project.
The group will refurbish and make use of the “Northern II” trawler as their home away from home. The vessel has living quarters and a kitchen that can house fishermen who go out to plant and harvest the seaweed, which is processed at the Society’s office on the beach side in Placencia. Operations manager for the cooperative, Justino Mendez, tells us more.
Justino Mendez – Cooperative Operations Manager;
We have already started investment in ensuring that we get it out from where it was. We look at a further assessment of exactly what we’re going to need financially, to get it running. We’re going to have somebody Monday, Mr Cabral, who will who will give us an overall assessment of the trawler, and then we budget exactly what we need. Where we’re gonna get this financing? We are right now writing to BEST. This will come through the Japanese Social Investment Fund. We will write it within the proposal to support the harvesting of this, particularly our seaweed expansion project, and this trawler boat will facilitate that.
While it is officially on the books as having been sold in a legally binding contract, OCEANA considers it a donation for a worthy cause. Vice-President Audrey Matura Shepherd said the organization wanted a sustainable and responsible project to support.
Audrey Matura Shepherd – V.P. OCEANA Belize:
I think the main attraction to us had to be for the change we saw of a fishing group, that understood the concept that when it comes to fishing it is not like farming. In farming you go and plant something and you extract it. Fishing is you just go and take out, and take out from nature. Then you are not thinking, “OK, if I’m taking out, how is it replenishing?” So for a long time environmental groups have tried to teach fishers that you can’t just keep on taking out. You have to be able to figure out, How do I just take out the number, and leave sufficient for it to be stocked? Well this project, the seaweed project, is really like farming. That’s why it’s called “seaweed farming”. You go and you put in, and you only take out what wou have put in. Now that is sustainable development, and that’s one of the major attractions for us.