There have been several calls by fishermen expressing concern over fishing permits. In an effort to bring some clarity surrounding the situation, Love News spoke with Mauro Gongora, Coordinator of the Capture and Fisheries Unit at the Fisheries Department who says that, primarily, they issue commercial fishing licenses. This license allows for the capture of lobsters, shrimp, conch and a variety of fin fish.

Mauro Gongora – Coordinator, Capture and Fisheries Department
“We issue only commercial fishing licences at this stage. With the revision of the Fisheries Act which is being undertaken by the Fisheries Department with the support of the Wildlife Conservation Society, we are hoping this will be concluded by the end of December of this year. We will be introducing various types of fishing licences which of course would include subsistence fishing, recreation fishing and commercial fishing licence. Sport fishing is managed by the Coastal Zone Management Authority. At this time it is commercial fishing that we are targeting, fishermen who do commercial fishing. The interpretation of commercial fishing at this time is any person who is fishing for any type of fisher product above 20 pounds per individual then that would be considered commercial fishing. There are areas that are off limits to fishermen, these are areas for example the noted zones within the marine reserves, as you know along the coast of Belize we have a network of marine reserves and it is in this no take zone which constitutes perhaps 5% of the entire area that is covered by marine reserve so really it is a small percentage and fishermen are allowed to fish in all other open fishing areas.”

Fishermen holding a commercial fishing license also have to adhere to other regulations such as the closed seasons for lobsters, shrimps, conchs and sea cucumbers. The department also issues specific licenses for the capture of sea cucumbers and sharks. And for those wondering whether the department monitors inland fishing, Gongora says the fisheries regulations that apply on the marine environment also extend to the inland water bodies. These include rivers and lagoons; therefore, anyone caught with a catch of over twenty pounds along the rivers or lagoons are liable for fines. Even so, most of the monitoring is conducted on the sea which is why, Gongora says, the department also seeks the public’s assistance in regulating the fishing done inland and asks fishermen to apply for their licenses. The department has also introduced a new measure to discourage non Belizeans who live in Belize from getting a license.

Mauro Gongora – Coordinator, Capture and Fisheries Department
“The requirements are that the applicant should present either a Belizean passport or a permanent residency certificate in the absence of that the person is required to present a social security card along with another Government issued identification card along with a birth certificate. We are now also asking fishermen to bring in proof of residency because as you know some fishermen are Belizeans but they live in other countries, for example Puerto Barrios or Puerto Cortez in Honduras, in Guatemala. So these are the people we are targeting and we want to make sure if they fish in Belize that they sell their product in Belize so we are also asking them to show evidence of their sale of the product in Belize also we are asking them to show proof of residency in Belize and the way they prove that is to show a copy of a utility bill, either a light bill, a water bill or a telephone bill.”

The department recently introduced a pilot project in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment, TIDE and the Environmental Defense Fund. It is for the managed access of the Glovers Reef and Puerto Honduras Marine Reserve through the issuance of a new, special license to fishermen who have traditionally fished in these areas. Fishermen need to meet a specific set of criteria to obtain this license and once they do, they will then need to provide catch information to the reserve personnel. This information will then be used by the department to develop management strategies for sustainable fishing in these two areas. There are currently around two hundred fishermen who will be part of this pilot project.