In Belize, the aquaculture industry is primarily based on the production of the whiteleg shrimp (Penaeus vannamei). Aquaculture in Belize has been expanding in volume and value more rapidly than capture fishery production, terrestrial livestock production and other agro-production activities. The growth performance of this aspect of the sector is reflected in the 160 percent annual increase in the production volume of farmed shrimp over the last decade. The export production and revenues have increased from 1.2 million pounds (545.4 tons) and Bz$ 10.4 million (US$ 5.2 million) respectively in 1995 to 16.86 million pounds (7 664 tons) and Bz$ 84.28 million (US$ 42.14 million) respectively in 2004.
The contribution of Fisheries, including aquaculture to GDP was five percent for 2003. Export earnings for aquatic products were Bz$ 107 million (US$ 53.5 million) in 2004. This was second only to Sugar Cane which earned Bz$ 114 million.
The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per Capita was Bz$ 7 223 (US$ 3 612) for 2003. The GDP at market prices was Bz$ 1 974 million (US$ 987 million). The GDP for Fisheries has increased steadily over the years from 2.2 percent in 1995 to 3.7 percent in 2000, to the latest available data of 5 percent in 2003. This was significant relative to the Caribbean where the contribution of Fisheries to GDP was generally less than two percent.
Farmed shrimp production in Belize is expected to remain fairly stable for the next two years. Shrimp farmers have been hesitant to continue farm expansion over the past years and are examining options that would ostensibly allow them to survive the current crisis. While improvements in shrimp farming technology are expected to gradually lower production costs, with strong price declines such as those experienced in the past years, farmers are in the process of reducing operational costs at the farm level and improving on production per unit area over time.
The emerging interest to diversify the aquaculture sector has been in marine cage farming. Thus far, the Fisheries Department along with other relevant regulatory agencies has reviewed two project proposals to develop two commercial scale marine cage farming ventures (Dyer Aqua Belize Limited, and Marine Farms Belize Limited). The species proposed for culture include the cobia (Rachycentron canadum) and the Florida pompano (Trachinotus carolinus).
Although environmental concerns have been expressed in regards to the potential negative ecological and social impacts of aquaculture, no formal assessments have been made. The farms have been developed behind the mangrove zone, without negative impact on this sensible environment.
The successes of this endeavor subsequently led to an expansion of the farm to a full-scale commercial venture. Since that time, the industry has developed rapidly and has become firmly established as a significant contributor to the Belizean economy in terms of foreign exchange earnings, income generation, employment, nutrition, and food security. The growth performance of this aspect of the sector is reflected in the increase in export production and revenues from 189 thousand pounds (86 tons) and Bz$ 1.8 million (US$ 900 thousand) respectively in 1990 to 15.9 million pounds (7 227 tons) and Bz$ 91.8 million (US$ 45.9 million) respectively in 2003.
In 2004, the volume of exported shrimp continued to increase in a significant way. Total farmed shrimp exports were 16.86 million pounds (7 664 tons) valued at Bz$ 84.28 million (US$ 42.14 thousand), with an increase in export volume of 5.6 percent. For this time period however, there was a decline of 8.2 percent in export value when compared to the 2003 scenario. The downward trend in export value has been as a result of a continued decline in global shrimp prices since 2000 due to increased volumes of shrimp by the Asian countries, at very low and competitive prices.
With regard to the area devoted to shrimp farming in 2004, there were 6 888 acres (2 789 ha) under production with fourteen farms in operation. This represents a 12.5 percent of the overall area under the tenureship of shrimp farmers.
Apart from the culturing of the exotic white leg shrimp (Peneaus vannamei), the husbandry of other penaeid species has also been attempted in Belize. These include the exotic Pacific blue shrimp (Penaeus stylirostris), the exotic giant tiger prawn of South-east Asia (Penaeus monodon), and the indigenous caribbean white shrimp (Penaeus schmitti). The culturing of these species had been attempted in the earlier phases of development of the industry. These trials however did not measure up to the expectations of producers and had been consequently abandoned.
Although aquaculture in Belize has been almost exclusively based on the farming of penaeid shrimps, the culture of other species has been attempted. These include the husbandry of: the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus ), the freshwater Australian red claw lobster (Cherax quadricarinatus), the redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus), and a number of African Rift Lake ornamental finfish species such as Haplochromis spp., Labeochromis spp., Melanochromis spp., Tropheus spp., Psuedotropheus spp. and Awlenocara spp. The culture of these species had also met with commercial failure, except for the Nile tilapia, which is mainly cultured at commercial scale.
Fresh Catch Belize Limited, the only commercial-oriented tilapia fish farming operation was formally inaugurated in December 2002. The facility has developed 150 acres of acres (60.7 ha) of production ponds. These facilities have a production capacity of 4 000 tons per annum with estimated annual revenues over Bz$ 12 million (US$ 6 Million). Since May 2004, tilapia exports from Belize have been exclusively to the U.S. market. In 2004, tilapia fillet exports were 215 880 pounds (98.1 tons) valued at Bz$ 1.1 million (US$ 550 thousand).
Fresh Catch Belize Limited is based on the production of red tilapia, O. niloticus, O. mossambicus and O. aureus hybrids only for the whole fish market and red tilapia hybrids for the fillet market. The farm is vertically integrated with production ponds, nursery systems, hatchery and processing facilities.
Apart from large-scale tilapia culture, the husbandry of a number of indigenous finfish cichlid species has also been undertaken over the last 3 to 4 years, on a small-scale experimental basis. There are currently over fifteen acres of small-scale fish farming operations involved in the husbandry of a number of native finfish cichlids, such as the bay snook (Petenia splendida), the crana (Cichlasoma uropthalmus) and the tuba (Cichlasoma synspilum), as well as the introduced or exotic Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). A number of other species have also been proposed for culture in Belize in the short-, to medium-term future.
The emerging interest to diversify the aquaculture sector has been in the area of commercial-oriented marine cage farming. Thus far, the Fisheries Department along with the other relevant agencies has reviewed two project proposals to develop two commercial scale marine cage farming ventures (Dyer Aqua Belize Limited & Marine Farms Belize Limited) near the Robinson Point area along the inner barrier reef lagoon. The species proposed for culture include cobia (Rachycentron canadum) and the Florida pompano (Trachinotus carolinus) which are found widely distributed in the Caribbean Sea. The project proponents have already received environmental clearance and signed the Environmental Compliance Plan, pending final approval with regards to the lease agreement for the proposed area of culture from the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Shrimp farming has also made significant contributions to the development of Belize in relation to employment and income generation, especially in rural communities. Aquaculture currently provides full-time employment for approximately 853 permanent or full-time employees, and approximately 206 temporary or seasonal workers. The number of employees at the farm level is expected to remain fairly stable during the next two years.
Full-time workers are generally associated with the husbandry and management aspects of aquaculture, whereas the temporary staff is almost exclusively involved with the processing aspects of the operation. Most of the processing workers are females originating from the rural communities where unemployment levels are high and poverty is greatest.
In general there is one permanent full-time field production staff for every 25 acres under production. There are roughly 275 husbandry technicians associated with the 6 888 acres of production ponds that are currently in operation. Direct employment opportunities are also associated with the farm-based support services, such as the hatchery operations and processing plants.
Another factor that is important to the development of aquaculture is the availability of a well-trained pool of expertise. Although Belize is not currently noted for having a well-trained cadre of aquaculture professionals, the relatively high literacy rate of the general population bodes well for the availability of a trainable workforce.
The accomplishments of a fairly good secondary school system and rapidly developing institutions of higher learning, such as the University of Belize (UB) and Galen University, are of positive implication in addressing the educational needs of the Industry. Although no formal assessments have been undertaken in regard to the economic impacts of aquaculture on the general ancillary services, it would be reasonable to assume that from the sheer volume of export earnings, the industry has positively and significantly impacted the full range of support services. These include customs brokerage, mechanical and electrical repair and maintenance services, refrigeration installation and maintenance services, trucking, shipping and air freight services, as well as processing, packaging and marketing services.
A number of the shrimp farms in Belize are vertically integrated with ancillary facilities and services In this regard, most of the larger enterprises have processing plants and hatchery facilities on-site (with the production pond operations).
In 2004, there were four fully integrated shrimp hatcheries in operation in Belize. These hatcheries had a combined monthly production capacities of 215 million Post larvae (PL's). This capacity is in excess of the current demand of 950 million PL's per year. The hatcheries have all adopted a strategy for the production of "Specific Pathogen Resistance" seedstocks (SPR) to combat the Taura Syndrome Virus infestations which have impacted the industry since late 2000 to present. This has resulted in improved growth rates and survival of stocks, and higher yields per production unit over the past years.
There are currently four processing plants in operation in Belize with a combined processing capacity of 190 thousand pounds (86 tons) of heads-on shrimp per day. These processing facilities are currently meeting the demands of the industry. Three of the four processing facilities have been certified by the Belize Agricultural Health Authority to export shrimp to the EU market. Over the previous years, the main market destination for Belizean farmed shrimp has been the U.S. market.
Apart from the contributions of farmed shrimp to the Belizean economy, the commercial farming and export of tilapia to the US market is expected to make significant contributions in terms of foreign exchange earnings in the near future. These facilities should have a production capacity of 4 000 tons per annum with estimated annual revenues over Bz$ 12 million (US$ 6 million). Since May 2004, tilapia exports from Belize have been exclusively to the U.S. market. In 2004, tilapia fillet exports were 215 880 pounds (98.1 tons) valued at Bz$ 1.1 million (US$ 550 thousand). Reported whole fish production for 2004 by Fresh Catch Belize Limited was 850 000 pounds (386 tons).
Aquaculture in Belize formally began in 1982 with the development of ten (10) acres (4 ha) of experimental ponds by a private company, in the south of the Country. This initiative was designed to test certain primary production functions of the whiteleg shrimp (Penaeus vannamei), such as growth rate, survival, and food conversion ratios (FCR's).
The first stocks of Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) for aquaculture were introduced to Belize in 1995 by Cherax Belize Limited. The farm experienced commercial failures during the latter part of 1997 and abandoned the project. It was not until the earlier part of 2000 that red hybrid strains of tilapia were introduced from Taiwan for commercial experimentation by Beaver Dam Aquaculture Farm.
Again, in October 2002, Fresh Catch Belize Limited - a commercial oriented venture, introduced tilapia hybrids from Israel. This includes the ND-21 Silver Hybrid (Oreochromis niloticus X Oreochromis aureus), ND-56 Red Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). The ND-21 is currently utilized for the fillet market and the Nd-56 for the whole fish market. Exports from Belize to the US market were initiated in May 2004.
In addition to the farming of shrimp and tilapia, other trials were conducted in the past with the Australian red claw lobster (Cherax quadricarinatus), the redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus), and a number of African Rift Lake ornamental finfish species such as Haplochromis sp., Labeochromis sp., Melanochromis sp., Tropheus sp., Psuedotropheus sp. and Awlenocara sp. The culturing of these species had also met with commercial failure.
With regards to genetically improved species in the aquaculture industry, there are currently no genetically improved stocks in the country. The only other work implemented in Belize has been the adoption of a program for the selection and the production of "Specific Pathogen Resistance" seedstocks (SPR) against the Taura Syndrome Virus infestation that has remained in the country since mid-2000.
Tilapia exports to the US market were exclusively fillets. Shrimps are exported as tails, peeled & deveined (PD), peeled & undeveined (PUD), butterfly shrimp, individually quick frozen (IQF), head-on and shell-on. Some exports of whole farmed shrimp have also been sent to Mexico in the form of fresh chilled.
With regards to the labeling and certification of aquaculture produce, the mandate lies within the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA). BAHA is responsible in issuing export permits as well as the HACCP certification and inspection of aquaculture facilities in Belize.
E.U. markets were opened for Belize after the processing plant HACCP certification program was implemented by BAHA. In 2004, three of the four processing facilities have been certified by BAHA for exporting to the E.U. market (Nova Shrimp Farm, Aquamar Belize Limited and Belize Aquaculture Limited). Nova Shrimp Farm has been registered over the past three years under the Aquaculture Certification Council program which certifies responsible aquaculture production practices and food safety at shrimp farms, processing plants, and other aquaculture facilities in a process-oriented certification for seafood buyers. The program is visually represented by limited use of a "Best Aquaculture Practices" certification mark.
The only small-scale aquaculture activity is Belize is the farming of various fresh water cichlids, including the exotic tilapia. There are currently fifteen acres of small-scale freshwater aquaculture fish farming under production in Belize. Most of these farms are located along the rural communities. All the fish produced by these farmers is used for family consumption with small sales within the community. It is estimated that more than five hundred family members benefit from this initiative, mostly by direct fish consumption. It is envisioned that this sector will expand rapidly in the near future, thus providing a source of income generation, fish consumption and as a source of nutrient in the diet of poor rural communities.
The institutions involved in the regulatory aspects of the aquaculture industry in Belize are an indicator of the level of commitment of the Government of Belize (GOB). These institutions can be divided into two major groups:
The Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMA/I) has been charged with the coordination of management efforts in regard to coastal resources. The CZMA/I is also involved with environmental monitoring, in particular water quality monitoring, and issues of zoning for the industry.
The Department of the Environment (DOE) has been charged with the regulatory leadership of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) process, and is conceptually mandated to safeguard and sustain the integrity of the environment.
The Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) is in the concluding phase of consolidating and strengthening the inspection and certification functions for fishery and aquaculture products. These functions were formerly under the legislative mandate of the Fisheries Department.
The Lands and Survey Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources is charged with the oversight responsibilities for land tenure ship. This includes the leasing of national lands, and enacting and enforcing legislation governing land tenureship.The GOB (Government of Belize) institutions that are not directly involved in accommodating the aquaculture production process include the Office of Petroleum and Geology, and the Ministry of Economic Development.
The Office of Petroleum and Geology has extended its mandate to include "earth movement" in regard to pond construction. This organization has in effect become a permitting agency, since there is a need for aquaculture operations to obtain either a Quarry Permit, or a Mining License before they can proceed with pond construction activities.
The Ministry of Economic Development is involved with the permitting process in regard to applications for development incentives. This includes provisions for the exemption of import duties and taxes under the Fiscal Incentives Act, Chapter 54 - Revised Edition 2000, as well as the Export Processing Zone Act, Chapter 280 - Revised Edition 2000.
The Private Sector
All commercial aquaculture production activities are in the hands of the Private Sector. After some vacillation in the mid-, and late-1990s, a Shrimp Farmers Association was formed in Belize in mid-2000. The Association has a broad mandate that is to conceptually attend all issues relating to the interest and livelihood of the shrimp farmers.
The NGO Community
The participation of the NGO Community in issues of aquaculture development is limited to the conservation-oriented NGO's. The involvement of these NGO's with issues relating to shrimp farming or other aspects of aquaculture has been relatively limited. The most significant intervention of the conservation-oriented NGO's was by the Belize Audubon Society (BAS) in the early-1990s in regard to the impacts of shrimp farming on waterfowl, and in more recent times the probable impacts of Tilapia on the ecology of the Crooked Tree Lagoon.
The NGO Community has expressed no known concerns with regards to the social impacts of shrimp farming, or other forms of aquaculture.
The Principal Fisheries Act also inferentially alludes to the need for operators of aquaculture enterprises to obtain a license, as stated in Section 7 which reads: "no person shall engage in commercial fishing...unless he is the holder of a valid fisherman license...".
The enabling Regulations S.I. 66 of 1977, Sec. 56 to 127, makes extensive provisions for the quality assurance aspects of fishery products, which inferentially includes those from the aquaculture operations. The recent S.I. 66 of 2002 (Table G to J) makes provisions for fees in relation to the license for conducting aquaculture operations as well as to operate a processing plant. Section G1 of the same S.I. also provides the form in which such application should be submitted to the Fisheries Department.
The other set of legislation directly related to the aquaculture production process or its impacts on the environment are the environmental legislation. These include the Principal Environmental Protection Act (S.I. 22 of 1992), and the enabling Regulations, S.I. 94 of 1995 and S.I. 107 of 1995.
The Principal Environmental Act empowers the Minister to: "make regulations prescribing the types of projects, programs, or activities for which an EIA is required and prescribing the procedures, content, guidelines and other matters relevant to such assessment". These arrangements have been concretized in the EIA Regulations (S.I. 107 of 1995) which stipulates that: "development of over 500 Acres of National lands, as well as major watersheds and coastal water-works, requires a full EIA". There are inherent weaknesses in these provisions, for example there may be a major aquaculture project sited in an inland locale exceeding 500 acres that is not on national lands but on "free hold" land or private property - conversely there may be a major aquaculture development project located on less than 500 acres of national lands, particularly in relation to the more intensive forms of aquaculture, that would have major impacts on the environment.
The Effluent Limitation Regulations (S.I. 94 of 1995) allows the Minister to: "order the installation of treatment facilities for effluents, set limitations on effluent parameters, ensure monitoring of both effluent quality and the conditions of the effluent system and approve point(s) of discharge". These Regulations also restrict the discharge of effluents on open land.
The major weakness of this Regulation (S.I. 94 of 1995) is that there are no effluent limitations pertaining to, or specific to aquaculture production activities.
Pertinent legislations immediately relevant to aquaculture production also include the Land Utilization Act of 1981. This legislation governs the use of land and makes provisions for conservation measures.
Relevant also is the 1992 National Lands Act, Sec. 9(4) which prescribes that: "the leasee must submit an EIA for developments over 500 Acres". The Minister may at his own discretion also prescribe an EIA for developments of less than 500 Acres.
The lease agreement in relation to this legislation obligates the leasee to take measures to avoid pollution, not obstruct natural drainage and makes allowance for monitoring by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Cooperatives, and other GOB agencies.
Under the Alien Landholding Act, Chap. 144 of the 1992 National Lands Act, the leasee must obtain a license from the Minister for permission to develop greater than 10 acres of rural land. In general licensing conditions are then developed that may include environment-related issues.
Legislation not immediately related to aquaculture production activities includes: the Mines and Mineral Act, the Development Incentives Act, the Fiscal Incentives Industrial Enterprises Act and the Export Processing Zone Act.
The Mines and Mineral Act, No. 14 of 1988, and the Safety, Health and Environment Regulation S.I. 33 of 1994 stipulates the need to obtain either a Quarry Permit or Mining License, depending on the volume of material in question, to extract and redistribute minerals. This stipulation has been extended to include aquaculture in its application.
The Fiscal Incentives Act, Chap. 54 of the Laws of Belize and the Export Processing Zone Act, Chap. 280 of the Laws of Belize - provide varying degrees of incentive in the form of exemptions from various duties and taxes.
Although Belize is not currently noted for having a well-trained cadre of aquaculture professionals, the relatively high literacy rate of the general population bodes well for the availability of a trainable workforce. There is no formal training in aquaculture in the educational institutions in Belize.
The accomplishments of a fairly good secondary school system and rapidly developing institutions of higher learning, such as the University of Belize (UB) and Galen University, are of positive implication in addressing the future educational needs of the Industry.
At this stage of development public sector programs to assist the development of aquaculture are not entirely focused, and shortage of trained personnel is the main constraint to institutionalizing the services and development of the industry.
For shrimp farming to succeed to the stage of 'mature development', where it is self-sufficient at an advanced technological level and external assistance or aid from donor agencies is not required - it is necessary to synthesize and implement a definitive and comprehensive development plan for the sector.
The most significant policy response to date has been in relation to a 'policy paper' generated by the Aquaculture and Inland Fisheries Unit of the Fisheries Department in late 2002, and the CZMA/Fisheries Department-led initiative in which a consultant was recruited in mid-2002 to develop a National Aquaculture Policy. In relation to the latter, after going through public consultation, the final document was submitted to the Fisheries Department during the first quarter of 2004 for onward submission and approval at the Ministerial level.
The policy responses have dealt with: disease management, aquatic pollution, the movement of exotic species, education and training, diversification of the shrimp farming industry, and the integration of small-, and medium-scale producers in shrimp farming, tilapia farming and other aspects of aquaculture.
Another Fisheries led initiative has been the development of a draft Aquaculture Act & Regulations in mid-2004 which is pending public consultation and then further endorsement at the Ministerial level. At this juncture, the draft document has gone through the process of consultation with the relevant regulatory institutions such as the Department of Lands, the Belize Agricultural Health Authority and the Department of the Environment.
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Belize Fisheries Department. 2003 .Fisheries Statistical Report, (unpublished).
Dixon, H. & Dorado, J.1995 .Managing Taura Syndrom Virus in Belize - A case study, 16 p., (unpublished).
Huntington, T. & Dixon, H. 1997 .A review of the environmental impact of aquaculture in Belize and guidelines for sustainable development. Final report by MacAlister Elliot Partners. Belize City, Government of Belize, GEF/UNDP.
Myvett, G. & Quintana, R. 2001 . The status of aquaculture in Belize 50 p., (unpublished).
Myvett, G. & Quintana, R. 2002 . The status of aquaculture in Belize 64 p., (unpublished).