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Lobster and Conch Fisheries of Belize: a History of Sequential Exploitation

Miriam Huitric, The Beijer Institute

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Abstract

This article presents a historical review of the lobster and conch fisheries in Belize, Central America. In terms of yield and value, these are the main wild-caught targets of the national fisheries, a small-scale commercial fishery of around 3000 fishermen. Data were collected during interviews with key informants involved with the fisheries and through literature and archive research. The goal was to study how the fishing industry has responded to environmental signals from these resources and from their ecosystems and ecosystem dynamics. National yields for both lobster and conch have been relatively stable, however, individuals’ yields have been declining despite increased effort since the 1980s. This study concludes that the use of fossil fuel-based technology and organizational change, with the establishment of fishermen’s cooperatives, have masked environmental signals. This masking, together with economic incentives, has led to the “pathology of resource use.” As a symptom of this pathology, four forms of sequential exploitation in these fisheries were identified. A major conclusion is that social resilience may not confer ecological resilience. The development of the cooperatives was needed in order to improve equity in the industry. Before their impacts could be assessed, this organizational change, together with new technology, led to very important and rapid changes in the industry. Together with existing regulations that allow de facto open access to lobster and conch, these changes resulted in a short-term boom that has resulted in the pathology of resource use, with over-capitalization and dependence on maintained yields, regardless of environmental feedback.

Key words

Belize; marine reserves; pathology of resource use; queen conch; sequential exploitation; spiny lobster
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087