Ladies and Gentlemen:
Protocol having been established, it is sufficient for me to say good morning to you and a special welcome to all who are here today to celebrate the Outstanding Fisher of the Year, 2018.
It is indeed a great pleasure for me to have the privilege of bringing a few remarks on this special occasion. I recognize and commend the fishers and leaders of fisherfolk organisations here in Belize and across the Caribbean who, today, and throughout the month of June, have been celebrating Fisherfolk Day - and recognizing the very important contributions that fishers make to our countries.
The theme of this year's Fisherfolk Day celebration is “Working Towards Zero Hunger with Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries". Fisherfolk Day is celebrated each year across the Caribbean and globally. For many years, special church services, competitions, and award ceremonies have been held as part of Fisherfolk Day celebration.
We take this time to acknowledge and recognize the very important contributions that fishers, both men and women, young and old, make to social and economic development, wealth creation, and food and nutrition security in our countries. And we celebrate, commend and honour the hard-working fishers, whose important and significant contribution is often undervalued and unappreciated by society.
The Fisheries sector generally, and the small-scale fisheries in particular, are vitally important to the economic & social development of our countries and to the health and wellbeing of our people. This time of celebration is also an opportunity to draw attention to the many challenges and problems facing the fisheries sector. Challenges, left unattended, could undermine and jeopardize the benefits we get from the fisheries, including livelihoods of fishing communities and the food security and nutrition of our people. Here we are talking about problems, such as overfishing, habitat destruction, climate change, ocean acidification and other serious threats to the sustainability of our marine resources and ecosystems. We always have to be mindful of these and work together to address them.
But the theme of this year’s celebration is “Working Towards Zero Hunger with Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries". There are 2 key components here: 1st: “the concept of zero hunger” and 2nd: "Small-scale Fisheries”.
The reality in our world today is that many people do not have enough food to eat. Every day many families -- across the globe -- struggle to feed their children a nutritious meal. In a world where we produce enough food to feed everyone, more than 800 million people still go to bed hungry every night. This is happening in poor countries and in rich ones also. For example, in the US it has been estimated that between 40-48 million struggle with hunger.
Not having enough -- or having the wrong food -- causes suffering and poor health and retards other areas of development and economic progress. For these reasons, eradicating hunger and malnutrition has been identified as one of the great challenges of our time.
In 2015, the countries of the world came together and adopted the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development, commonly referred to as the SDG goals. SDG Goal 2 -- which addresses the concept of “Zero Hunger” -- pledges to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, fisheries & forestry. The key is really sustainable agriculture and fisheries (including aquaculture).
Lets come back home to Belize and the Caribbean. In Belize and the Caribbean countries, we are very fortunate. God has been good to us. We have been blessed with an abundant supply of fish and rich marine biodiversity from which we can easily obtain healthy and nutritious food and livelihoods.
The nutritional value of fish is, unfortunately, often not recognized in our countries. We like to eat imported and processed food, which are often of inferior quality -- loaded with preservatives, additives, fats, sugars and other things that are bad for us -- and and we neglect the powerhouse, superfoods that we have locally and are very good for us.
Numerous studies have been done over the years that confirm the health benefits of eating fish and seafoods, which are excellent sources of protein, energy and several other important nutrients, including micronutrients. These studies have confirmed and reconfirmed that the nutritional profile of fish is superior to many other foods.
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish have been linked to lowered risks of asthma, dementia, depression and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, stroke and heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to promote brain development in children and brain health, improving fertility, maternal health, kidney health, immune system health, and heart health, to mention some of the benefits.
Fish is an extremely rich source of fat soluble vitamins such as A, D & E, water soluble vitamins such as B complex, and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, iodine, and selenium. There is a growing body of evidence that a fish-rich diet helps keep the mind sharp and healthy.
One study found that eating fish at least once a week slows age-related mental decline by the equivalent of three to four years.
Women who eat fish during pregnancy have brighter children. This was the conclusion from a study of almost 9,000 British families taking part in the Children of the 90s project at the University of Bristol which studied children’s behavior and intelligence.
The main concern about fish has been the presence of low levels of methyl mercury in some kinds of fish, but the only known cases of mercury poisoning from fish come from Japan, where in the 1950s and 1960s industrial pollution of the sea caused problems for people living in Minamata and Niigata.
Long-term studies in the Netherlands have shown that people who eat fish are less likely to develop heart disease. The Japanese, for whom fish form a significant part of the diet, have the greatest life expectancy in the world.
I have said all this to make the simple point that the fish and seafood we have available to us in our waters are very important for livelihoods and foreign exchange but even more important for food and nutrition security, ending hunger and malnutrition, and achieving the goal of zero hunger.
The fisheries sector in Belize is entirely small-scale in nature. In some CARICOM countries, there are some large-scale industrial and semi-industrial type fisheries but overall, the fisheries are overwhelmingly small-scale, so the small-scale fisheries are very, very important in the Caribbean region and globally. About 70% of all the fish and seafood consumed globally comes from small-scale fishers. Notwithstanding this fact, the needs of small-scale fishers have long been overlooked.
In 2015, FAO adopted The Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines). This is an international document setting out principles and standards, and providing guidance for sustainable small-scale fisheries governance and development. The intention is to ensure that governments and development partners give due consideration to the needs of small-scale fishers and their communities, and ensure proper management and sustainable use of the resources.
On 18 May 2018, the Ministerial Council of the CRFM adopted a Protocol incorporating the FAO SSF Guidelines in the Caribbean Community Common Fisheries Policy and called on CARICOM Goverments to implement the provisions of the guidelines. So as a region, we have to give more serious attention to the needs of our small-scale fishers who work under difficult circumstances and have been making such an important contribution to food and nutrition security.
We want a future in the Caribbean where our small-scale fisheries are sustainable, resilient and productive -- and are used in a way that promotes economic growth, food security, health, and the prosperity of our people now and in the future.
In closing, we at the CRFM look forward to working closely with the fisherfolk, NGO community, and all other partners with an interest in fisheries to end hunger, secure the livelihoods and resilience of fishing communities and achieve vibrant, sustainable and profitable small-scale fisheries.
I take this opportunity to again acknowledge, recognize and commend the strong, hardworking, dedicated fishers and their families in Belize and across the Caribbean region. To those who are here this morning, and those who are at sea, or at work in the villages or markets, I thank you for the tremendous sacrifice and service you provide to your communities, to the nation, and to the region - often under very difficult and trying circumstances and with little recognition, support or understanding from others.
Thank you very much and may God bless you and keep you safe in all your endeavours.