It’s one of the oldest villages in the country and it’s had its share of land disputes, but the latest controversy is Crooked Tree is in the water. Fishing has long been one of the main income earners in the village, but fishermen are now complaining because of restrictions on their use of the lagoon. The crux of the matter is that the lagoon falls under a protected area managed by the Belize Audubon Society, which is enforcing regulations on when and how the villagers can fish. But today, the fishermen told News Five’s Delahnie Bain that they won’t stand for it.
Delahnie Bain, Reporting
For decades the Crooked Tree lagoon has been the source of income for many fishermen in the village. But it is inside the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a protected area and there is now growing contention over regulations that limit the amount of fishing that can be done in the lagoon.
Steve Perriott, Vice Chairman, Crooked Tree
“The problem is that between Audubon, Fisheries and Forestry, dehn di put some rules and regulations down on the villagers and the villagers here have been making their living off of fishing, off of the land for almost three hundred years. So now the problem again is that Audubon seh di fishermen can’t fish, that this year the way it’s looking is like this wah be di last year. Now, dis dah now wah reserve like wah marine reserve eena di middle ah di ocean weh nobody live. This is a protected area where people live and the people that live here makes their living off of that protected area that Audubon is protecting.”
The fishermen in the village feel that their livelihood is being threatened and they say the last fishing season was dreadful.
Henry Westby, Fisherman, Crooked Tree Village
“They gotta learn to respect villager, respect us and that’s the bottom line because we can’t let this continue happen because this last fishing season they really put a licking on us, really. We’re depending on the lagoon to fish and they set they’re dates and it’s not working with us. They’re taking away from us more than they are giving.”
Kenneth Bruce, Fisherman, Crooked Tree Village
“Dehn already tek four nets away from me. Dehn tek three nets last year and just Friday ago dehn pick up di last one and dehn lef me like hungry check. Dehn only give we two days out ah di whole fish season weh dah like five months to fish. So when I gone fi my net, I gone to di Audubon and seh like weh di go one, no more fishing? And di man seh we luck we fish two time fi dis season caz ih seh next fish season we noh wah get no break fi fishing. I want dehn know dat—I noh fraid—I want dehn know dat I noh wah put up wid dis fi much longer.”
The controversy over the enforcement of the regulation stems from the fact, that fishing is a traditional activity of the village.
“From before time, people go out there all hours of the day, all hours of the night and they’re fishing. Right now, every year since I’ve been in Village Council, the amount of time that the fishermen are allowed to go in the water has been decreasing every year. And again, the powers that be need to understand that we don’t have no problem with protecting the animals, but they have to realize that the people have to eat.”
“From the time I become a young boy I was fishing in this lagoon and fishing has become part of, not only my livelihood but the whole of Crooked Tree livelihood. Now Audubon is coming with their rules as Mr. Steve said, behind our back, not discussing with us and just amending their own rules and we are not down with that.”
“All I want di Audubon do dah just lef we lone mek we ketch we fish and mek wi daily living like how do it caz dat dah only way fi mek we mek wah lee money yah dah cashew and fish or dehn thing like dat and dat dah di main point ah it. like we seh, no reserve or no protected area shouldn’t have people living in it because dehn have to live off ah dah areas; dehn have to live off ah di lagoon or di riva.”
According to Rene Jones, a former employee of the Audubon Society’s Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary office in the village, neither the law nor the conflict is new. However, a lack of communication may be the constant factor.
Rene Jones, Former Employee, Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, BAS
“The issue of fishing here in Crooked Tree has been for a long time, from the time the sanctuary was established here and I guess there wasn’t a proper communication went on. And so the Forestry and the Belize Audubon Society may even need to have more outreach to the community here so they can understand what the community is saying.”
“All we saying is that when they make rules, discuss it with the Villagers, don’t just come out and say this dah what. When they take these nets, these nets cost money and every time they pull somebody net dah money they’re taking right there. So if they can protect the crocodiles and the fish that much, then they need to start working on the people now because we don’t want to tell Audubon that we invited you here, so we could invite you out. We don’t want to say that but if we have to we will.”
“Di other day dehn had Fisheries, Village Council, the Audubon, forestry and the police, dehn all come together and dehn had wah meeting dah George Guest house and all dehn come and seh fishing wah stop and what’s not. Dehn noh even have wah meeting fi mek di whole village yer weh dehn seh.”
Delahnie Bain for News Five.