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Osvaldo Santoya named Fisher of the Year 2023

Photo: Osvaldo Sontoya, Fisher of the Year, 2023

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 29, 2023

Osvaldo Santoya, a fisherman from Chunox Village, was named Fisher of the Year 2023 at a ceremony held by the Sustainable Fisheries for Our Future, the Ministry of the Blue Economy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Environmental Defense Fund on Thursday, June 29, at the University of the West Indies Open Campus in Belize City.

The event was held under the theme: “One Ocean, One Planet, One Plate: Uniting Aquatic Food Standards and Ocean Health,” and for the eighth consecutive year, paid tribute to fisherfolk’s contributions to Belize’s small-scale fisheries sector.

Santoya, who was nominated by the Audubon Society, has been a fisherman for over three decades and is a member of the Managed Access Committee for areas 6 and 7, an advisory committee for Lighthouse Reef, and the Belize National Spawning Aggregation Committee. Santoya also serves as the chairperson for the Chunox Fishermen Association, and acts as a committee liaison between the Audubon Society and the fisherfolk and youth of Chunox.

Along with the title of Fisher of the Year 2023, he received a cash prize of $3,000, a plaque, and a large ice cooler from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

An emotional Santoya expressed his joy and gratitude at the ceremony, saying, “I feel very happy, and I feel kind of nervous, because it is my first time to be elected …”

An advocate for sustainable fishing, Santoya stressed its significance to the media. “I think it is very important for us to know about sustainable fishing, because I think it’s the future that we are trying to take care [of]. It’s a very interesting vision for me, and I think it’s supposed to be for all the fishermen,” he said.

Santoya urged aspiring fishers to familiarize themselves with the fishing rules which protect the different species, and he noted that adherence to such rules would benefit all fishermen.

Apart from Santoya, three other individuals were recognized for their exceptional work in the sector. Maria Allen, from Caye Caulker, received a second-place prize. Notably, Allen was involved in rallying fisherfolks across Belize to request a government meeting concerning the increase in the minimum size and weight of lobster tails from 4 to 4.5 ounces.

She also runs her family’s stone crab business, which supplies various Belizean restaurants, and manages the station for the National Fishermen Cooperative Society Limited in Caye Caulker.

Allen acknowledged the challenges of being a woman in a predominantly male industry, stating, “For a woman, it’s very challenging. It’s a man’s world.” She praised her father, the founder of the fishing cooperative and a fisherman himself, for his influence and support throughout her journey.

She received a cash prize of $2,000 from the Nature Conservancy, a small cooler from Hofius, a one-night stay for two at Hamanasi Resort in Hopkins, and a gift bag from the Environmental Defense Fund.

Two persons received the third-place prize: Ray McNab, who was represented by his daughter, and Buddy Magaña, Sr. The two were nominated by the Audubon Society and Buddy Magana, Jr., respectively.

Both men were involved in drafting guidelines for the Managed Access system and sharing their knowledge of deep-sea fishing with other fishers, as well as drafting a framework for the Stone Crab Fishery and Championing Rights of their fellow fisher folk.

They each received cash prizes of $1,000 from the Wildlife Conservation Society, a gift basket from Grace Kennedy, and a certificate recognizing their contributions as outstanding fishers.

The ceremony did more than just honor top achievers in the fisheries sector; it also highlighted the challenging nature of the industry and celebrated the resilience and commitment of Belize’s fisherfolk.

Ralna Lamb Lewis, assistant country director for the Marine Wildlife Conservation Society, spoke about the vital role that fishers play in bringing seafood from the sea to our plates.

“Oftentimes we only think about when we get the seafood at our restaurants or at home, but we also want to appreciate and recognize those who are out there on the sea, fishing, braving the storm, all the difficulties, especially at the opening of lobster season,” Lewis stated. “It’s a very difficult job, but one that they love and appreciate, and I know that they definitely wouldn’t want to give it up for any other thing,” Lewis further commented.

Lewis pointed out that the courage and dedication demonstrated by the fishermen and fisherwomen at sea, especially during the turbulent lobster season, deserve our utmost respect and appreciation.

Some of the criteria used to select the award recipients included how active they are within the fishing community, whether they are a member of an association or cooperative, and whether they champion the voice of their fellow fishers, as well as any additional involvement in the conservation field.