With a 240 mile long coastline, Belize has a rich history of boating, fishing, and swimming in , bountiful tropical waters. Some fishing practices date back to the Maya civilization. Today Belize’s fishing industry is a major productive sector of the economy, contributing US$10.7 million annually in revenue from seafood exports and providing jobs and other benefits for an estimated 15,000 Belizeans.
Given the economic and cultural significance of fisheries in Belize, it is important to ensure the sustainability of the sector. One way is to utilize and harvest marine resources responsibly so that we can ensure healthy reefs and fish populations for generations to come. Belize has also taken important steps, such as establishing “replenishment zones”, protecting spawning aggregation sites and declaring open and closed seasons for products such as lobster and conch.
There are many methods that Belizeans use to extract marine resources, but some are better than others. The gear described as “non-destructive” are those that have minimal impact on habitat and the creatures not being targeted for capture. Those non-destructive or “clean” gear reduce bycatch and prevent charismatic, keystone, and protected species from being unintentionally caught.
Most Belizean fishermen rely on some of the oldest forms of fishing in the world, but as fish populations get harder to find, fishers are adjusting the gear they use. Below are some of the more responsible fishing gear used in Belize that have a low impact on the marine environment. For a full guide on the fishing gear used in Belize, check out our report here:
Fishing Methods in Belize
Hand line fishing or drop fishing is one of the oldest and most widely used forms of fishing throughout the world. It consists of tying a hook to a line with a weight on the end, baiting the hook with sprat, shrimp, or small fish, and throwing the line in the water. It gets its name because the line is not attached to a reel, it is simply held in the hand, and is sometimes tied around a plastic or wooden spool. Fishers will use different sized hooks depending on the type of fish that is being targeted. Multiple hooks can be tied to each line. Hand line fishers generally target snappers (yellow tail, red, schoolmaster), grouper, grunts, rockfish, jacks, or other finfish. They will drive out to patch coral heads in their skiff (panga) and fish for up to four days at a time. Hand line fishing is also the method of fishing used at fish spawning aggregation sites. Some fishers will use a hand line attached to a winch to fish in deep slope areas. This type of fishing is common all along the coast of Belize. Hand line fishers are required to have a fishing license with the Belize Fisheries Department.
Hand line fishing is considered to be non-destructive because it only targets a few fish at a time to be caught. If a juvenile fish or an illegal species is caught, it can easily be removed from the line and put back into the water. As long as the line is not lost in the water and tangled on coral, it is not going to have a high impact on the environment around it.
A Belizean fisherman using a hand line
Diagram of a hand line
“Raati” net (crawl net)
The “raati” net gets its name from the Belizean kriol word for a large species of sea crab referred to as “raati”, and you guessed it – it’s used to catch blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) off of bridges or in shallow water. It is constructed around a metal frame, sometimes creatively using a bicycle wheel or a metal basket. Chicken skin or feet, cowhide, or other fleshy, tough meat is used as bait for the crabs. Blue crab is considered to be a lower class food and it is mostly fished for subsistence. However, it can sometimes be found for sale at fish markets. Raati nets are most commonly used in the Southern areas of Dangriga and Hopkins during the months of May to August when the seas are a bit rougher. There are currently no restrictions on raati net use in Belize.
Because the raati net is used in areas where it won’t get snagged on live corals or unintended targets, it is considered non-destructive. Also, if immature crabs are caught, they can easily be thrown back into the water with little damage, allowing the crab to grow and reproduce at a later date. This is important to ensure that crab populations remain healthy for future generations.
Diagram of a "raati" net
Young boy using a "raati" net off a bridge in Dangriga
A sling (Hawaiian sling or trident) is a type of spear with rubber tubing that wraps around the wrist. It can vary in size, but 5.5 feet is a standard length. It is traditionally three-pronged and it is used to catch lionfish and other finfish. The fisher will pull the spear back, stretching the rubber tubing around their wrist, and then release the spear to shoot toward the target fish. Fishers who use a sling or trident to catch lionfish are allowed to use SCUBA gear; however, these are the only conditions under which SCUBA gear can be used for fishing in Belize. The sling, just as any other fishing gear, is not permitted for use in marine reserves.
A sling is a highly targeted method of fishing meaning it has a very low impact on the environment. This makes it a responsible and non-destructive way to fish. Only the intended fish is caught, minimizing by-catch and making sure that juveniles can remain in the water to mature and reproduce.
SCUBA diver with trident spear, fishing for lionfish
With fish stocks declining worldwide, it’s extremely important that fishermen in Belize continue to utilize these non-destructive gears to ensure the sustainability of our fish stocks, especially given our nation’s high dependence on fisheries for revenue, livelihoods, and sustenance. After all, fishing responsibly means our country will be able to fish forever!
Note: These are only some of the non-destructive gear used in Belize.