By Judge Kenneth Gale
The Fisheries Department is perpetuating the destruction of Belize fisheries and economy by continuing to allow the gill nets otherwise known as the Walls of Death to predominate.
The Walls of Death is the descriptive name that has been bestowed on gill nets. The nets have received the name because they kill all that come in contact with them.
The Walls of Death do not discriminate. They kill protected manatees, tarpon, permit, bonefish and other species even in protected waters.
The Fisheries Department is involved in the process of revamping the fisheries laws, but in doing so, it advocates the continuance of gill net fishing.
It does so putting forward the bogus claim that fishermen want gill net fishing to continue.
The Southern Fishermen are virtually unanimous in their drive to outlaw gill net fishing. They very clearly and logically set forth the manner in which outlawing gill net fishing will save the fisheries and increase employment for the fishermen.
The Fisheries Department came up with a bogus list of what they contend are Northern Fishermen who wish to have gill net fishing continued. The list did not have the fisheries license number of any of the persons who signed it.
The list is a most unprofessional attempt to accomplish the bidding of a few against the interests of the country and the majority of its licensed fishermen. The list bore the names of persons who are not currently licensed fishermen.
Ninety percent (90%) of all gill net fishermen who fish Belizeans waters are Guatemalan fishermen who come from Guatemala with their Guatemalan boats and nets.
They salt their catch and ship it back to Guatemala. Their catch includes manatees that are considered a delicacy.
At most, if the Fisheries Department obtained the names of currently licensed Belizean gill netters who support gill net fishing, they wouldn’t obtain names equal to 2% of all of Belize’s licensed fishermen.
Among the less than 2%, one-half of those named would be fishermen who illegally set their nets in closed areas, killing and taking protected fish and mammals, further contributing to the destruction of the fisheries and Belize’s economy.
Sacrificing the fisheries and jobs of more than 98% percent of the licensed fishermen to satisfy the questionable desire of less than 2% of Belize’s licensed fishermen is not only the epitome of ignorance. It is a stupid move that will further destroy Belize’s economy and lead to further unemployment. As the economy continues to go down, the crime rate will continue to rise.
Many years ago the gulf coast states of the United States of America evaluated the destructive effects of gill net fishing and outlawed all gill nets. The States thereafter, benefited greatly from this law as fish began once more to re-populate gulf state waters.
The outlawing of gill nets in Texas waters brought back many nearly non-existent species of fish. As a result Texas now boasts of a billion dollar recreational fishing industry.
If Belize immediately outlawed gill net fishing, instead of the continued loss of employment, Belize could soon have a billion dollar recreational fishing industry that would provide great employment and bolster Belize’s economy.
Gill net fishing is a very wasteful form of fishing. The fish die in the nets and many are discarded. After a net is pulled, one will frequently see dozens of protected bonefish discarded, dead and floating on the water. Neither the Guatemalans nor others consider the bonefish a marketable fish.
Why have protective catch & release laws and other regulations that protect fish when the Walls of Death are going to indiscriminately kill the protected fish and make these protective regulations useless?
Many years ago a very knowledgeable Minister of Fisheries, the Hon. Servulo Baeza, held public meetings regarding gill net fishing. He made it clear that the only way that the Guatemalan gill netters could be stopped was to outlaw gill net fishing altogether.
The future will continue to prove that Mr. Baeza was right.
On September 9, 2010 the Guatemala Congress unanimously approved the special agreement for taking the Belize Guatemala dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It appears that Belize will commit the folly of also agreeing to take the dispute to the ICJ. The Prime Minister recently made the statement that he didn’t know what Guatemala had up its sleeve.
What Guatemala has up its sleeve is clear. Among other benefits Guatemalans could legally gain are fishing rights to Belize’s waters. The ICJ does not have to stick to the law.
Like arbitrators, they have the inclination to give a little to both sides to make both sides happy. Belize has not outlawed gill net fishing and has for years allowed 90% of the gill net fishing in Belizean waters to be done by Guatemalans manning Guatemalan boats.
If gill net fishing is allowed to continue, one of the tidbits that ICJ can give Guatemala is the legal right for Guatemalans to fish Belize’s waters.
If the present Minister of the Fisheries does not want to protect Belizeans and Belize’s economy, he should resign, so one who will do so can be appointed.
When the Fisheries Department speaks, its position must be in line with the political authority, or the Department will not receive its required operating funds.