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Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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Editorial, Amandala

Some years ago, a documentary was released about the native people who live on an island in the Pacific. The islanders' main source of revenue, as we remember it, was diving for oysters, in which pearls are found, in the island's waters.

As the natives explained it, the custom was that the divers were both men and women, and they did not use SCUBA gear, only a mask and fins, which meant that, fine divers that they were, they could only work as long as they could hold their breaths.

It was inevitable that the interviewers should ask the natives why they did not use diving tanks, which would allow them to harvest many times more what they harvested using the traditional diving methods.

The natives replied that yes, the harvest would be bountiful using the tanks, but that meant that the oysters and everything else would be cleaned out within a few seasons. If they were not greedy and stupid, the natives told the interviewers, who appeared to be from the Western world, there would always be work, and a source of income for future generations of islanders.

We remember the wisdom of the natives because we in Belize appear to be both greedy and stupid where the bounty of our seas is concerned. We speak specifically about the obvious damage that gill nets and other types of fishing nets have caused to our fishing industry. These nets are used indiscriminately by fishermen who do not appear to realize, or care about the serious damage that they do to the fish stock, and the habitat in which the fish live. These nets, we are told by some dispirited sea-faring Belizeans, are set practically all along our coastline, especially in the mouth of, or near rivers that empty into the sea. The nets kill small fish and other fish that are prey for the edible fish caught in the nets.

Then, of course, there are the trawling nets, which not only do the same damage as the ordinary nets, but also break coral and in general, because they sometimes scrape along the sea bottom, destroy the habitat of the fish.

We were told that at the mouth of the Belize River, near the Haulover Bridge, fishermen routinely set nets at night and harvest them early in the morning to evade any Fisheries boats, or other prying eyes.

To fully understand the damage that this type of fishing does, it may be instructional to recount our own story. Up to probably 30 or 40 years ago, fishing was very good in the area of Robinson Point and Spanish Caye, which is about 12 miles south-southeast of Belize City.

Then the decline began, gradually, but to the point where fishing meant long hours in the sun, with a small catch for our efforts.

Our many complaints some years ago may have caught the right ear, because pressure was put on the fishermen who were setting nets at the mouth of the Sibun River. The following year, the fishing was definitely better, but the following year, it was terrible again, and has been so ever since.

It is understandable that the foreign predators of our seas, which is to say the Hondurans and the Guatemalans, do not care what damage they do our patrimony as long as they make money, but what excuse do the local fishermen have, except greed and stupidity?

But this is why we have a government, which has the very serious responsibility of protecting and preserving our marine patrimony for the benefit of future generations of Belizeans, and protecting such patrimony from the depredations of uncaring foreigners.

It is our considered opinion that successive governments, red and blue, have behaved criminally in the said protection and preservation of our fishing industry and our marine patrimony. The length of our country faces the sea, and we have innumerable breeding habitats for our fish, and yet, fish and other marine products are becoming more and more scarce, and more and more expensive, to the point where it is not inconceivable that a large segment of future generations of Belizeans may not be able to know what seafood tastes like.

While trawlers have been banned by law in Belize, the proliferation of gill nets along our coastline and the impunity with which these so-called fishermen operate inescapably point to indifference, a lack of wisdom, and a lack of political will on the part of Cabinet.

And before we forget, there are good fishermen in Belize who try to fish with sense and concern for the future of the fishing industry. The "so-called" fishermen referred to above are the scum of the seas, the "bandidos" who care for nothing but money, and they are national and international.

In fact, the word to us for some time now is that armed jacking of lobster and fish pots at sea, and marine produce, has become commonplace, posing real danger for the victims, but that is another story for another time.

The fact is that successive Fisheries ministers, over the years, have talked at length and postured much, but have done very little about the problem.

It is obvious that the Fisheries Department cannot even effectively enforce what laws we have because of a lack of finance, equipment and personnel. The effectiveness of the Department in fighting such barefaced piracy, to be precise, is a joke, a sick joke on us Belizeans. And there are no aspersions cast on the Department. They can only do just so much with the little they have.

So, we cannot protect the rosewood, xate and wildlife in the Chiquibul, and other nature reserves in the south; we cannot protect our fishing industry the length of the country, north, east and south. It is depressing.

We end with an obvious truth: the politicians, red and blue, have so far been proven useless in the matter. To paraphrase the Hon. Philip Goldson, the time to save our fishing industry is before there is nothing left to save.

Those with eyes to see, let them see. Those with ears to hear, let them hear. It is written.

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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Outlaw the "Walls of Death!"

Author: Kenneth Gale

Dear Amandala Editor,

Amandala’s May 6, 2012 editorial captioned “A tale of greed, stupidity and indifference,” regarding the destruction of the Fisheries as a result of gill net fishing, was a great contribution that properly exposed an evil that has been and is, destructive of both the Fishery and Tourism industries. The politics that has allowed such destruction to continue is disgraceful, and dishonorable.

Gill nets, for good reasons, are referred to as the “Walls of Death.” They do not discriminate as to any form of life that becomes entangled in their webbing, every form of such life dies. It may be fish, sea turtles, dolphins, manatees or other forms of sea life.

The Government enacted a catch and released law to protect tarpon, permit and bone fish. The law is virtually useless as “The Walls Of Death” do not recognize the law. The “Walls Of Death” continue to trap and kill tarpon, permit, bone fish and all the other protected species.

Previously, in approximately 2004, Belize had a fine Minister of Fisheries who was truly for Belize and its people. He was the Hon. Servulo Baeza. He understood the destruction created as a result of gill net fishing. After considerable public hearings and polling of the fishermen he arrived at the conclusion that to protect the fishing industry, all gill net fishing must be outlawed!

At the time Baeza was in office, and until the present, 90% of all gill net fishing in Belize has been done by Guatemalan gill net fishermen, who salt and ship their catch back to Guatemala.

At the time Baeza was moving to have gill net fishing outlawed Cabinet was reshuffled and he was re-assigned. The charges against a person who had been arrested and charged with selling fishing licenses to the Guatemalans, was dismissed and the law was changed to make it easy for Guatemalan gill net fishermen to get licenses to fish in Belizean waters.

The decision of the Hon. Baeza to have gill net fishing outlawed in its entirety came after he had public meetings on the subject and polled the fishermen as to their views.

The first public meeting was at Monkey River. The meeting was attended by southern gill net fishermen. The fishermen explained the great harm to the industry that resulted from gill net fishing and how and why employment in the fishing industry would be increased and the fisheries saved if gill net fishing was outlawed.

They further explained that the only reasons that they fished with gill nets was because the Government allowed the Guatemalans to do so. Their position was that they would gladly give up gill net fishing if the Guatemalans were prevented from gill net fishing also.

Fishermen were then polled as to their views, and the vast majority of the fishermen took the position that gill net fishing should be outlawed.

Gill net fishing is so destructive that it was outlawed in the Gulf Coast States of Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and Florida. After the outlawing of gill net fishing endangered species of fish came roaring back. Those States now have billion-dollar sport fishing industries!

If the Ministers of Fisheries and Tourism really have the best interest of the people and the country at heart, and act before it is too late, Belize’s Fisheries can be saved and at the same time Belize can create a billion-dollar sport fishing industry, an industry that will increase the economy and employment, thereby helping to reduce crime.

Any restriction that continues to allow gill net fishing in any form will continue the problems. Many of the small number of Belizeans who use gill nets use them to fish illegally in restricted areas, taking protected fish. The Fisheries Department has not been able to stop such illegal gill net fishing. The only way it can be stopped is to outlaw all gill net fishing.

Hopefully, some day Belize will have a Minister of Fisheries and a Minister of Tourism that has such concern for the country and its future that they will stand up for what is right and work together to have the “Walls of Death” outlawed in their entirety. The industry must be saved for the children and their children.

The “greed, stupidity and indifference” should not continue.

Kenneth Gale


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