Location of the shark fishing camps at Lighthouse Reef Atoll. We were informed that fishing took place throughout the atoll with nets and longlines.
Shameful shark kill - World Heritage Lighthouse Reef Atoll
We have just been alerted by many people to a large kill of sharks in and near the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye at Lighthouse Reef Atoll. The Jewels of Belize's marine heritage and tourism have been hit hard by several unlicensed fishers using the unsustainable fishing gears nets and longlines.
These pictures represent a portion of a single day's fishing with nets and longlines and include at least 32 sharks representing 3 species including the Endangered great hammerhead and pregnant Caribbean reef sharks (and sources counted at least 50 sharks landed in the short space of time they were at the sites). The sharks were landed at Sandbore Caye and Hat Caye at Lighthouse.
Little to none of the shark meat is consumed in Belize (it's full of neurotoxic mercury) as it's traditionally exported to Guatemala. And Hammerheads (meat and or fins) cannot be legally exported across national boundaries without a specific export license that is ultimately approved by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This international convention, to which Belize is a signatory, notes that countries wanting to export listed species (such as the hammerheads and even conch - both listed under the Appendix II) must prove internationally through a process called a non-detriment finding prepared with Belize's independent Scientific Authority, that the fishery for the listed species is sustainable. However, fisheries for large long-lived, late maturing and low production sharks including hammerheads and Caribbean reef sharks are recognized worldwide as UNsustainable. This means they should NOT be fished.
The sharks in the pictures were captured by a handful of fishers apparently working under only two shark fishing licenses and targeting Belize's marine jewel in the crown, Lighthouse Reef Atoll. These sharks were a mainstay of dive and snorkel tourism at the atoll and helped to support many local businesses that rely on tourism for their income. These dead sharks represented millions of dollars in lost revenue, not only to Belize's tourism sector and the many families and politicians they support, but also to coral reef ecosystem resilience, as these animals play a critical role in maintaining reef health.
Live sharks and rays generate far more income to a country that shark fisheries. These swimming "Golden geese" of the sea generate a continuous and often rising stream of revenue as a destination becomes known for hosting expanding populations of sharks. An example from our region is the Bahamas where shark tourism was recently valued at over US$70 million annually and benefits countless families and businesses.
Considering the many costs and benefits to Belize, shark fishing no longer makes any economic sense for Belize. The inability of fishers to selectively target only the small rapidly reproducing shark species (and only if adequately monitored and enforced) along with the lack of enforcement means that there is no hope for fostering a sustainable shark fishery. If you add to this the small economic value gained by a handful of shark fishers compared to the economic importance of sharks to the country's largest GDP earner (tourism) and the country's immediate need to shore up both coral reef and fin-fish fisheries resiliency, then it's clear, there are no more clear rational or economic arguments as to why this fishery is permitted to continue.
We are all stakeholders of sustainable fisheries and by extension of shark and rays ... especially the tourism sector that earns millions and generates countless jobs from catch and release fly-fishing and other recreational fishing as well as snorkeling and diving with live sharks and rays. It's time to be heard: request a voice in decision-making regarding sustainable fisheries and sharks and rays (a key avenue is representation in the National Shark Advisory Committee run by the Fisheries Department). To the public, decision-makers, politicians, managers, fin-fish and invertebrate fishers, teachers and students: STAND UP FOR YOUR SHARKS AND RAYS. Whether you know it or not, they have brought you so much and will continue to support you if you protect them.
You want to see change? You CAN make a difference. Please contact our Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Dev. Hon. Gaspar Vega and let him know that you support sustainable fishing in Belize, prefer to see sharks and rays alive and that you do not support the use of nets and longlines at: THIS LINK.
Continued shark fishing w nets and longlines at Lighthouse Reef
We apologize for bearing more bad news but shark fishing efforts continue and have apparently intensified at Lighthouse Reef. The previous post showed catches from one fishing day out of supposedly five days. If all fishing days equated the day for which we have a count of 50 sharks, then Lighthouse Reef Atoll lost ~250 sharks. In 5 days between 13-17 February.
Yesterday and today the fishing continued and is expected to continue as this and the use of nets and longlines, even near reefs, is considered legal. Apparently not all fishers now need to have shark fishing licenses and many can work under one or two shark fishing licenses. This places into new perspective the 62 shark fishing licenses permitted by Fisheries for 2016 (Ramon Carcamo, Fisheries Officer, pers Comm). There is no indication that these fishers have CITES export permits from Fisheries for the regulated hammerhead products. And a CITES permit for these fished species cannot be given unless the Government can prove that the fishery is sustainable - and it's not. Moreover, Hammerheads are not supposed to be fished commercially per Belize's agreement with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). This is a commercial fishery.
The fishers continue to use nets and longlines with strobes to improve night-time captures of Caribbean reef sharks, endangered Hammerheads, mako and more. They are even catching gravid LOBSTER out of season.
What bait are they using? We understand they are netting BONEFISH - highly valued and protected recreational fly-fishing species - to bait for sharks.
All sharks are filleted and placed in barrels with salt, each barrel holding the meat of between 300 small sharks to 20 large ones. These barrels are shipped to Guatemala. So that the fishers can fish continuously, they are being supplied by a boat that brings then food and takes away the barrels of sharks and the fins.
We ask, why is this legal? It makes no rational, ecological and economic sense for Belize.
We suggest the following to have one site where sharks and rays and other large marine wildlife can thrive:
1. Promote sustainable fishing for the whole country and ban nets and longlines.
2. Make Lighthouse Reef Atoll a Marine Protected Area. This will align it with Turneffe Atoll and roll out of the widely touted fisheries managed-access program and help rangers to enforce a ban on nets and longline which is standard for marine protected areas in Belize. Also the traditional fishers of the atoll from northern Belize support this idea.
So make yourself heard. Sign the petition to push for sustainable fishing which will curtail senseless and large-scale capture of sharks from our waters.
Blame the messenger? Does Forest Dept or the BDF scold FCD when they post photos of Guate incursions into the Chiquibul? No. Wade is out of order. Fisheries are out of order. Minister Vegas is way out of order.