Haul Day is a big event in the Crooked Tree, Belize District. It allows fisher folks to catch fish in the lagoon within the wildlife sanctuary for their own consumption as well as for retail. But what should have been an occasion rich with opportunity turned out nasty for the fisher folks when representatives from Audubon, Fisheries and Forest Departments as well as police stopped them in their tracks. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
Crooked Tree villagers were up in arms today after they were denied the opportunity to fish within the lagoon. On Tuesday, the village council applied for a haul day, which was approved by the Fisheries and Forest Departments. But the approval came with restrictions which residents say threaten their livelihood.
Andy Gillett, Fisherman
“All ah we round yah…this dah like lone fishermen around here weh want go dah the water and can’t go dah the water because the chairman make who go dah the water when they want go dah the water. And that noh right because this dah fi we living and without this, we can’t even mind fi we kids or nothing.”
Anthony McDonald, Fisherman
“This affect we big time because we as a ghetto youth, this dah fi we living weh we do from tradition; this dah pa, ma, everybody di do this. And I noh know weh di go on with dehn bally dehn. But Audubon dah somebody weh we need fi take out yah because dehn di try stop fi we livity. And if dehn di try stop fi we livity, weh dehn want we do? Dehn want we go bruk ina people house? Kill people?”
“So you sell the fish to make money so that you can live for you and your family?”
“Well ina wah way we have to do that and we have to eat it to yo understand because dah soh we get fi we money out yah because government noh got no job out there fi we. When we go look fi wah job, first thing yo hear is that we dah criminal with the way how we look; di try class we bad.”
It’s a way for life, for approximately three hundred families who rely on subsistence farming and traditional fishing in the area. But most of Crooked Tree falls within the wildlife sanctuary, which by law is protected and fishing, in particular, is illegal. But since people live within the protected area, annually a haul day would be requested by the village council to allow for fishers to fish—both for local consumption and for commercial purposes.
Amanda Burgos, Executive Director, Belize Audubon Society
“A haul day is traditional where it’s a one open day when the water is very low within the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and the fish is congregating in very small areas and in a sense is a bit of a culling activity where we are approached by the village council requesting for a haul day. What we then do is go through the process of facilitating that event, which means we get permission from the fisheries department, from the forest department, the police, regulatory agencies—to have their presence at the event—so that we can collect data, so that it is basically structured in any kind of formal way so that we can control the activities out there.”
In the past, haul days traditionally meant a free for all day and it is with that in mind that local fishermen flocked to the banks of the lagoon this morning. But they were stopped in their tracks; canoes with fishing gears were moored or taken out of the water.
“They usually have an open day every year or sometimes they have it more than one time fi the year. And every year, we usually go haul and only this year they stop we. I don’t know why…wat dah the reason why dehn stop we cause every year they usually give everybody wah chance to do it. We noh really need a license right now because the last time Fisheries come up here…we had that issue already and the Fisheries come up yah and they called a meeting and dehn state say that we noh need no license ina di village fi haul. The chairman in control ah that, but once we wah need wah fishing license, they wah come back dah Crooked Tree come deal with that. And now all of a sudden dehn just say we need license and that noh right. Because the whole while we mi di haul without license and this dah fi we living.”
Gavin Quiros, Fisherman
“I got two pickney, dehn have to eat. We noh di thief nothing, just like weh bally say. I noh know if dah that dah weh the man dehn want we start to do.”
Gavin Quiros has been fishing for almost a decade. He says that while his license expired last December, he decided to take advantage of the haul day. He was already on the waters taking in his net, when he had to release his catch.
“The spot weh part I mi gone, I mi at least about seventy-five years out of the bunk. But when yo di circle di net, yo have to bring it around, but about twenty-five yards reach ina di bunk. When the man dehn come dehn say that we wah take away dehn net and dory and everything if unu noh let go dehn fish yah.”
“They came on boat?”
“Noh, dehn walk right on the edge of the water yah. The man say ih wah make some police come and burn up everything—dory, net everything di man she ih wah burn up right in front of we.”
The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is co-managed by the Belize Audubon Society and according to Executive Director, Amanda Burgos, following the passage of the National Protected Areas Systems Act last October, a fisherfolk license is required for fishing, even for on a haul day.
“Belize Audubon, historically, because we recognize that the village exist within the wildlife sanctuary and because people have traditionally fished, we have allowed subsistence fishing within a certain range. So there are certain guidelines as to areas where you should and should not go and the procedures for that. What we have done is try to work through the Fisheries Department and one of their recommendations is that these people have fisherfolk license. So as of last year, a fisheries officer had gone into the community and they had begun to discuss some guidelines for fishing and how we can do that and how we can begin to rectify it. In that timeframe, the National Protected Areas System Act actually passed October of last year and one of the things within that act was that it allowed for designation collar wildlife sanctuary two, which allows traditional usage. Our proposal is that Crooked Tree should actually turn into a wildlife sanctuary two which will allow and legalize fishing within that community. However, currently that is not the case and so we have to work within whatever means we can, which means there has to be some kind of structure. It is at the fisheries recommendation that fisherfolk license be one of the things that is implemented for a little more structure.”
“I have my license, but I noh want go in there like that too, yo understand. I want go in there right so because we supposed to di haul this free. This dah fi we livity.”