Ban the gill nets! Restore prosperity to Belizean fisheries

By Judge Kenneth Gale

During earlier years Belize's fisheries was one of Belize's finest assets. It processed many species of sea life that bolstered Belize's economy through export and provided lucrative employment for thousands of Belizean fishermen and others employed in the industry.

As a result of political influence and gross mismanagement, foreign fishermen have been allowed to fish in Belize's waters with their gill nets. Their activities and the activities of foreign trawlers have depleted Belize's fisheries and damaged Belize's fishing grounds. The depletion and damage is so grievous that Belize's fisheries is no longer the bright star that provided so much to maintain the economy.

Foreign Fishermen

Ninety percent (90%) of all gill net fishermen who work in Belize's waters are foreign Guatemalan fishermen who salt their catch and ship it back to Guatemala.

Gill nets are referred to as the wall of death, and for good reason.

They do not discriminate, any form of life that becomes entangled in them dies. It may be a fish, sea turtle, dolphin or manatee. The Manatee is considered a delicacy in Guatemala.

Half-way measure

The Government has enacted a catch-and- release law to protect Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish. It is an excellent law. However, the wall of death pays no attention to this law. It traps and kills Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish in great numbers.

The Government protects the fish from Belizeans and sport fishermen, but not from Guatemalan gill netters.

The gill netters catch the Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish, salt them, then ship them off to Guatemal. Gill nets that Guatemalan fishermen weight down to the bottom, to harvest lobsters destroy the habitat and the coral they come in contact with.

Kudus for Baezar

There was one exception to the mismanagement by the Ministers of Fisheries. It was the Hon. Servulo Baeza. He was an outstanding Minister of Fisheries, demonstrating great knowledge, ability and integrity.

When Servulo Baeza came into office, one of the f primary problems he encountered was gill net fishing. Minister Baeza held public meetings and polled fisherman to gauge their sentiments regarding gill net fishing.

During a meeting attended by southern fishermen they took the position that gill- net fishing was bad for the country. They contended that the only reason they fished with gill nets was because the Government allowed the Guatemalans to do so.

They further stated that if the Government would stop the Guatemalans from fishing with gill nets in Belize that they would gladly give up gill-net fishing.

Six years later

Belizean gill net fishermen have now, approximately 6 years later, repeated their statement, this time on television. Belizean gill net fishermen have waited for years, hoping for the banning of gill nets at sea.

Outlaw gill nets

When Belize fishermen were polled regarding their views in respect to gill-net fishing, the responses were near unanimous that gill-net fishing should be abolished.

The polls clearly showed that it would be in the best interest of Belize to abolish gill net fishing. When the Minister of Fisheries, the Hon. Servulo Baeza, indicated that he was prepared to outlaw gill-net fishing, Prime Minister, Said Musa, promptly removed him as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The damage to Belizean fisheries is not confined to gill net fishing. The trawlers from Honduras are major players. After they depleted Honduras' fishing waters, they moved to Nicaragua.

When the Sandistas took over in Nicaragua, they expelled the trawlers from their waters and Belize, foolishly, allowed them to come and ruin our waters.

Those killer trawler

Irrespective of the damage they have done to the fisheries, and the fishing grounds, politics have allowed the trawlers to stay despite the mounting evidence against them.

Dr. Gary Mefe of the University of Florida, claims that trawling "is one of the most damaging kinds of habitant destruction on earth".

He is right! The heavy chain that anchors the bottom of the throat of the net plows deep into the sediment on thes ea bed as it is dragged, extended cross-wise, behind the trawler.

Anchor chains are ploughs

The chain acts like a plough, scarring the sea floor, kicking up clouds of sediment and destroying the habitat that is the nursery grounds for Belize's developing fish.

If people could see the devastation taking place beneath the surface of the sea, they would take to the streets in high rage.

15 to 1 ratio

Crew members have reported that the by-catch from the trawlers is so high that for every 100 pounds of shrimp caught, they throw away 1500 pounds of by-catch fish and other sea life. Sea creatures dumped from the trawlers are either dead or dying.

Trawling also does great damage to the environment. The chain that ploughs through the soft sea bed causes tons of sediment to rise to the surface, spread out, then sink back toward the bottom, killing the coral underneath.

Started out good

At the start of his Ministry Minister of Fisheries, Hon. Rene Montero could tell the difference beween right from wrong. Near the middle of 2008 he took the position that gill-net fishing should be banned. But nearly one and one-half years have gone by and nothing has been banned.

Oops! the Secret's out !!

The latest dev-elopment is that the Jamaicans are here with their boats and fishing gear, ready to start fishing. However, they made a mistake. They arrived before a permit allowing them to fish was issued.

The secret was thus exposed and the people have had an opportunity to object. The people have demonstrated, vociferously objecting to all foreign fishermen, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Mexicans and Jamaicans. The people have spoken. They want all foreign fishermen out!. They have had enough of exploitation and destruction of their fisheries.

They want no more!