BELIZE CITY, Wed. Mar. 27, 2002
Amandala has received complaints from local fishermen
that the many shrimp trawlers
operating off the coast of Belize are severely
affecting their catches, and destroying
fishing traps and habitat upon which the complex
Belizean marine ecosystems are
Belize is proud of having the second largest Barrier
Reef in the world and the largest in
this Western Hemisphere, and the fear is that shrimp
trawlers may also be affecting
water quality, which may in turn also negatively
affect the health of our precious Barrier
Reef system - one which tourists from around the world
come to our shores to admire.
A local fisherman we spoke to today, Wednesday,
claimed that he had 5 traps set
around Grennel's Channel, near Robinson Point, about
10 miles off the Belize coastline.
He said that about a week ago he saw shrimp boats in
the area, which he accused of
breaking the edges of the channel. Another fisherman
claims he saw a shrimp boat
around the same time trawling only 4 miles off the
These reported incidents have caused some to question
whether these vessels are being
monitored to ensure their compliance with fisheries
and environmental regulations and
Unofficial reports indicate that at least 8 shrimp
trawlers have been operating in Belize's
coastal zone of late. One source went so far as to
number 10, believed to be more
trawlers than our waters can now sustain.
Shrimp trawling is regarded by opponents as the
world's "most wasteful fishing practice."
Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
indicate that shrimp trawl nets
account for 10 million tons of by-catch per year, or
35% of the world's total. The data
also indicate that a global average of 5.2 pounds of
marine life is wasted for every
pound of shrimp caught by trawling - that's just over
a 5:1 ratio!
Trawl nets are generally indiscriminate, except that
they are now required to contain
TED's or turtle excluder devices. This is an
international regulation imposed because
shrimp trawling has been linked to a massive decline
in sea turtle populations.
One local fisherman also speculates that the shrimp
trawlers are possibly the reason for
the decline in Belize's Nassau Grouper population. The
local fishers, who use mostly
hand lines, deny that they - by allegedly targeting
spawning aggregations - are at fault for
the tremendous grouper declines. The trawlers can
sweep in a catch containing
everything, both bottom dwelling and open water marine
life, including flounders, skates,
sharks, snappers, corals …a list of the by-catch can
be rather extensive!
Fishermen also complain that fish catches are
significantly lower than before, "because
shrimp trawlers are raiding our waters."
Marine shrimp is a product in high demand
internationally in places like the USA and the
Caribbean. One cooperative produced about 80,000
pounds of trawled shrimp in 2000,
valued at about $200,000.
Shrimp trawlers ordinarily have joint-venture
arrangements with the fishing cooperatives.
Under such arrangements, Honduran and Guatemalan
vessels have been allowed to
enter the local fishery. They may sell their shrimp to
the cooperatives at about $20.00
The current shrimp trawl licenses, we have been told,
will expire in mid-April - the end of
the shrimp season. Once the season closes, the trawl
operators must renew their
license for the new season.
Amandala attempted to get comment from the Fisheries
Department regarding the
complaints, which we consider extremely serious, but
officials were attending their
annual general meeting, away from their main office in