Honduras’ pristine marine waters are under multiple threats from transnational corporations and investors, as well as powerful politicians. Since the 1970s, 70,000 hectares equivalent to half of Gulf of Fonseca’s mangrove forests have gone from community ownership to private concessions. North and South American or European corporations have taken native populations’ rights to access resources away, mainly for tourism and aquaculture purposes. The expansion of shrimp farms to over 20,000 hectares of forests, lagoons and tidal zones, has led to gross human rights violations. A large number of communities have been displaced.
The export-oriented shrimp industry in Honduras claims to employ approximately 20,000 people. This figure is however five to ten times less than the number of people who sustain their livelihood through the mangrove resources, whether small-scale fishing or other traditional uses. Further, the conversion of productive mangrove areas into shrimp farms has resulted in the destruction of natural habitats crucial for regeneration of coastal natural resources, including fish. The chemical contamination and eutrophication caused by shrimp farming also constitute an additional threat to Honduran marine life.
In a response to declining fish catches in the Gulf, the government has proposed to replace the fisheries law of 1959 with a new legislation based on Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQ), the Law of Fisheries and Aquaculture Act. The proposed law is promoted by USAID and backed by the fishing industry – including Pesca Chile, a subsidiary of the Spanish transnational Pescanova.
In 2013, the Association of Fishermen of the Gulf of Fonseca (APAGOLF) launched a quick and well-planned campaign targeting the media and members of parliament and succeeded in halting the process. The campaign argued that typical market driven responses to environmental problems are yet another threat to small-scale fisheries. Jorge Varela from APAGOLF insists that “There is plenty of evidence from this region that market-based solutions only benefit the rich elite and foreign investors at the expense of mestizos, indigenous people and Afro-Honduras fishers’ rights. We will continue to protect the rights of fish- ers by fighting this proposal.” Their struggle is far from over as in June 2014, the National Congress again tabled the new law for approval.