When the human population is small as in Belize today, there is a tendency to look at coastal wetlands as expendable lands, for the greater immediate need of commercial exploitation and a growing tax base. The results are now in, from Thailand and other parts of Asia. To ignore the benefits of coastal filtration systems, such as mangrove swamps, is a disaster and more expensive in the long run. The longer run is not so far away either, just about thirty years in Belize.
Unlike many ocean shore countries, Belize has an inner sea, inshore fisheries and an offshore great barrier reef and islands. These would be severely damaged as the population levels rise to half a million and the one million people mark, without these natural coastal filtration systems. In the past shrimp farm ponds have replaced coastal mangrove swamps. And pollution comes not only from shrimp farms, but from chemicals, fertilizers, feces, waste treatment plants, garbage dumps and many other causes. In order to protect the inshore fisheries and offshore reefs the cost to future governments some thirty to fifty years away would be impossible to try and duplicate the already existing natural filtration system of mangrove belts along the coast of Belize.
Shrimp farming in particular became a focus of the coastal lands use of Belize in the 1980s. A lot of knowledge, problems, and ecological environmental effects are now known, that were not known a decade or two ago about shrimp farming. Shrimp farming has run into considerable trouble in recent years. Destruction of mangrove coastal zones to build ponds, was a political decision found to be in error. We now know that shallow lagoons, ponds, creeks and mangrove belts of up to a half mile wide are needed to cleanse the pollution coming off the mainland. The chemical reactions and combinations of atoms and molecules that by natural process convert toxic pollutants into harmless natural substances are almost impossible to duplicate by man-made substitutes for mangrove swamps.
But the facts are now becoming clear. Worldwide, the voracious appetite for fish and shellfish has shamefully depleted our oceans, overexploited stocks, and destroyed marine habitats. To keep pace with the growing demand for seafood—predicted to rise 8% during the next decade—the world must increasingly rely on aquaculture, the farming of fish and shellfish.
Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector and continues to expand alongside terrestrial crop and livestock production. Aquaculture currently provides roughly half of the fish consumed worldwide, and its share is expected to increase in the future as wild fisheries reach or exceed their sustainable limits and as aquaculture technology and management continue to improve. Although aquaculture contributes significantly to the upward trend in per capita animal protein consumption on a global scale, it is increasingly dependent on terrestrial crops and wild fish for feeds, draws on freshwater and land resources for a large portion of its aggregate production, and can be damaging to aquatic ecosystems and fisheries. Aquaculture thus adds to—but can also diminish—resources that support food security at regional and global scales.
As stewards of a future without food scarcity and environmental plunder, our critical challenge is to find new ways to produce more fish and shellfish without causing more harm. Forward-thinking aquatic farmers, other entrepreneurs, and scientists are already working on exemplary systems and practices to raise fish without negative impacts. Yet, scaling these efforts to a level that can meet growing demand for seafood requires overcoming significant financial, political, social, and logistical challenges. That conundrum, however, can also represent a significant business opportunity.
One of those opportunities in Belize has been taken on by the Belize Shrimp Grower’s Association in meeting the standards of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. Founded in 2010 by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and IDH (Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative) the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is an independent not for profit organization with global influence. The ASC’s mission is to transform aquaculture towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility using efficient market mechanisms that create value across the chain. ASC aims to be the world’s leading certification and labelling program for responsibly farmed seafood. The ASC’s primary role is to manage the global standards for responsible aquaculture, which were developed by the WWF Aquaculture Dialogues.
ASC is playing an important role in Belize with respect to the country’s growing aquaculture ventures. ASC is a new certification scheme for developing a new aquaculture certification mechanism that would put more emphasis on social and environmental aspects of aquaculture, which remain a big challenge for our young industry. Belize Aquaculture (BAL) has been granted ASC certification as part of the Association’s project. Here is a link to a video telling about the project: Belize Shrimp Farming Certification . For BAL and other Belize shrimp farmers, as a group, this achievement is not like any other certification requested by customers. It is a truly voluntary effort that the Association wanted to do because they think it introduces valuable progress in the way they (as an industry) develop and manage aquaculture.
It is also recognition of the great attributes of BAL for example, as a modern aquaculture setup designed to reconcile industrial development and environmental conservation. Belize is a country of rich biodiversity with a stretch of mangrove belt along the coast that acts as a natural filtration system. The journey towards ASC certification has helped to highlight areas of BAL operations where meaningful change can be made with minimal financial resources. Sometimes all that is really required is a change of perspective, said representatives of the Grower’s Association. We’re using less water on our farm through improving the way we manage water quality. And, by focusing on compliance, we uncovered that the water in the receiving body is of even better quality since our mangrove buffer acts as a biofilter. The Grower’s Association members plan to continue with the process of improving their farms. Meeting the ASC standard has ensured an objective assessment of the farms and the marine environment through independent evaluation,
ASC states that the Belizean farms have undergone a transparent, open and demanding assessment process – and through that have proven their responsible practices. The improvements they have made will make a difference for the future environmental sustainability of the region and to a community ethos of social responsibility. This achievement is the demonstration that members of the Belize Shrimp Grower’s Association share a common foundation of core social, environmental and ethical values. ASC certification will help in developing a positive image of Belize as a trusted provenance in the marketplace and will open new commercial opportunities for Belizean shrimp.
For BAL and other Belize shrimp farmers as a team, this achievement is the result of an investment of nearly 10 years. We have been in discussions with the WWF before they initiated the process of developing the certification standards, and we have made the conscious decision that we will get involved and contribute to the development of the scheme because we felt that it would be the most credible aquaculture certification scheme, as a result of the involvement of the WWF and numerous other NGOs and the openness and transparency of the process.
Through ASC certification shrimp farms aim to measurably reduce adverse impacts on the environment and local community by preserving wetlands and mangroves; addressing the transfer of viruses and reducing disease; bringing cleaner water and ensuring the responsible use of water; ensuring the responsible use of feed; and addressing biodiversity issues.
This posting is intended to take the opportunity to highlight why this achievement is special to us and express our gratitude to all the team at BAL and within the Shrimp Grower’s Association, especially BAL’s Environment and Social manager Isabelle Gayot, for taking the challenge and for the great work and efforts they have done for bringing our operation to compliance and also supporting the Belizean group on this journey.
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Sittee River Wetland
Sittee River Wetland