Lobster season opens on July 15th Ė and thatís when the co-opís start receiving the premium priced crustacean. But, there are a few rogue fishermen who use the open season as a sort of amnesty period for lobster that was fished in the off-season. Itís breaking the rules, but doing it in a way thatís hard to detect Ė since the lobster doesnít appear until the season opens.
But, today the fisheries department came down hard on one such violator Ė by making a record bust of full-sized, off-season lobster. Hereís the story.
Jules Vasquez reporting
These 19 large garbage bags of out of season lobster are hauled up out of a large receptacle gushing water. There are about 145 tails in each bag that works out to over 2,500 lobster tails - thatís over a thousand pounds of regulation sized lobster, it's the largest bust of out of season lobster in memory valued at about twenty thousand dollars at the co-op.
Hampton Gamboa - Fisheries Supervisor, Conservation Compliance Unit
"We have here approximately a large quantity of lobster that was found in a freezer in a residential establishment as well as two freezers in an establishment, a residence."
"Is this the largest bust that you can recall in recent memory?"
"In terms of lobster recently, yes. Just about 2500 individuals, yes."
The lobster was found at that Belize City residence based on a tip from the public.
"With the assistance from the general public we gathered some information late yesterday and we embarked on a couple establishments as a result we came up with this bust. Jules we have someone in custody as such right now, as soon as we finalize with all and individually count these products - because as you can see this is the most tedious part for us, we have to thaw out all of these and ensure that we can count them individually in the presence of the person who we found at the establishment."
The bust is the product of good detective work by the fisheries which has been studying some unusual trends.
"We have gathered data over the past four years for people who have traditionally delivered at the cooperative in large quantities in the first week. Then also the complaints from some of the quality personnel at the cooperative, they say people bring in lobsters that are still frozen which means they have been stock piling before the season which we alluded to earlier. Once that happens you find out that the integrity of the product for the cooperative goes down and their value. Now the co-op will be faced later on when they're ready to export low quality products. Basically the first two weeks of Lobster season we have large quantity of lobsters that are being delivered of which majority have been stock pile lobsters. We have a list of ten people from throughout the whole country who traditionally every year within the first two weeks bring in roughly about 3 or 4,000 lbs of lobster."
"Which is impossible to catch in a week."
"I wouldn't say impossible, but next to impossible Jules."
And now, all this lobster which fetches premium market price will be given away for free to feeding programmes:
"Jules as soon as the matter is concluded, since our last interview with you all which is a week ago our stock pile has gone from 50 add donor agencies to now about 82. So we have a long list of feeding programmes, schools, summer camps - we have gotten request for products which can be extended from lobster to conchs, any kind of product that we have confiscated. So we do have a list that is already there so as soon as this matter is concluded, the administrator or the magistrate will decide and we will then distribute to these feeding programmes."
Lobster season opens on the 15th and anyone found in possession of it before then will be prosecuted. As for conch, that closed last week, and tonight, Friday is the last night you can be found in possession of it.