Three Mexican nationals were imprisoned after illegally fishing within the preservation zone of the Bacalar Chico Marine and Wildlife Reserve on Ambergris Caye. Basain Cruz, Emilio Ambros and Norberto Cruz were charged in Magistrate Sherane Rodriguez’s court in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, on Wednesday, January 9, 2013.

The Fisheries Department was contacted about the situation on Tuesday, January 8, 2013, and the matter was taken to court the following day.

“Fisheries had against them two charges,” said Fisheries prosecutor Immanuel Westby. “We had one for fishing without a commercial fisherman’s license, which is a requirement if you’re going to fish commercially in Belize. And also, for fishing within the preservation zone of the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, which is also something that should not be done,” he explained.

Westby said that the marine reserves are set up in three areas: a general use zone, which is accessible by persons for basically any activities allowed by law; a conservation zone in which non-extractive activities take place, and a preservation zone in which absolutely no activities should take place. The three men were doing their fishing within the preservation zone.

In court, the magistrate read them both charges, to which they all pleaded guilty. It was their first offense on such charges, and all three men were fined $710 each. They were each charged $500 for the illegal fishing, $200 for not having a fishing license, and $5 for each charge for cost of court.

“Because they are Mexicans, they were told to pay it forthwith and when I left the court they were unable to pay it,” Westby said. “I spoke to Mr. Miranda from the Mexican embassy, and he said that the families also got in contact with them and they’re a poor family and they’re unable to pay the fines. So as a result I believe they’re spending that seven months in central prison, which is the default for not paying the $710,” said Westby.

Westby said that when he arrived in San Pedro, he found out that the Immigration Department was also placing charges against the three men for illegal entry into Belizean territory.

Westby said that whatever products the men might have already caught were in the boat, which went back to Mexico. When the boat the men were traveling in was spotted by authorities, the driver of the boat sped off, leaving the three men behind.

False news got to the Mexican authorities that the three men were abducted and held captives in Belize. The Belize Coast Guard was informed of that news and launched a search for the “abductees.” When the Coast Guard contacted San Pedro police, however, they were told that the news was false and the men were being held by police for fisheries violations.

According to reports, the Mexican embassy was contacted about the three men charged for the offenses before the coast guards launched their search.

Amandala tried to contact the Immigration Department on Monday, January 14, for information on their charges against the Mexicans, but were unable to speak to the appropriate persons.