Ever been curious about the seafood on your plate? “How and where was my seafood caught”? Not to worry: you are not alone. Over generations, Belizean fishers have navigated our blues with the proper management of national fisheries in mind. However through these sustainability efforts, fishers and NGOs have partnered on various initiatives to not only ensure proper fisheries management, but to also find innovative ways that highlights the importance that responsible consumption can have in compliance with fisheries regulations and integrated best practices.
In 2016, this search for innovation led to the creation of the Fish Right, Eat Right program (FRER). This certification program aims to curb illegal fishing and encourage sustainable fisheries by offering marketing opportunities while promoting responsible seafood sourcing and consumption in Belize.
Since its inception, FRER has worked alongside twenty-two restaurants countrywide that ensures, from sea to plate, customers are receiving the most sustainably caught seafood possible. One restaurant that has always been committed to the preservation of our marine ecosystems is Ambergris Caye’s Blue Water Grill (BWG). Since 2001, owners Kelly and Mukul Kanabar have been offering their patrons in San Pedro the culinary experience of a lifetime through local ingredients with their thoughtful and innovative menu. Nonetheless, BWG’s dedication to providing sustainable seafood led to their FRER restaurant certification in September 2019.
Photos courtesy of Blue Water Grill
Mukul shared, “The Fish Right, Eat Right initiative fits exactly into our world view. We need to take care of the environment, the ocean, and the marine life; so we can always experience the beauty of Belize – now and in the future. Additionally, as one of the largest and most visible restaurants in the country, we felt it was important t set an example by joining Fish Right, Eat Right.”
With sustainability at the forefront, Blue Water Grill opts to buy a variety of fish from local, licensed fishermen; providers who align with their operation’s sustainable methods – even being creative along the way. Not to mention, seven years ago, they stopped listing specific fish on their menu. Thereafter, BWG completely shifted not only how they were able to interact with fishermen; but also, how their employees would interact with customers. The newfound flexibility to serve the ‘catch of the day’ created an opportunity for conversation starters between servers and guests. Besides, Blue Water Grill’s customer service is a cornerstone of their success; that is, which may only be outmatched by their incredible food.
Due to their location on Belize’s busiest islands, Blue Water Grill still often faces the challenge of sourcing sustainably caught seafood to meet their demands. Because they rely on a small network of fishermen for supply, the system is delicate and not always guaranteed. This uncertainty has only emphasized to BWG the tremendous benefits that a virtual marketplace can offer; showing seafood availability in real time, how it was caught, while creating easy communication between fishermen and restaurants. This is how the pilot project, “Market Based Incentives for Responsible Fishing”, being spearheaded by Oceana in San Pedro and Caye Caulker under the FRER initiative, aims to improve the fisheries industry supply chain. Ultimately, success will be based on open communication and transparency. This is how we can ultimately safeguard our food security and fisheries resources.
The future of FRER in Belize
However, “Rome was not built in a day”. Thus, the development and evolution of FRER continues alongside the many NGO partners, restaurants and fishermen that sees the value of sustainably sourced seafood. Through their participation in the certification program, many restaurants, like Blue Water Grill, will then pave the way for a virtual marketplace to revolutionize Belize’s fisheries supply chain. Hopefully, becoming akin to the Uber app – but for seafood. Given the economic and cultural importance of fisheries in Belize, it is crucial that we ensure the sector’s sustainability.
So just remember this the next time you sit down to enjoy a seafood meal; ask about what’s being served and how it was caught. Not only will this encourage vendors to source responsibly-caught seafood, but you might even end up learning more about your new favorite fish. Learn more about how to support Blue Water Grill’s sustainable initiatives at www.bluewatergrillbelize.com.