The last time that gill nets made the news, was at the end of July. That was when it became public knowledge that the Fisheries Department was favor of keeping gill nets for traditional fishermen, even though organizations like Oceana Belize and the Coast Guard are in favor of phasing out this practice.
While it appears that the Government hasn't made up its mind on how it wants to deal with this controversial issue, for the managers of the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve it's simple. The law says that gill nets are not supposed to be used in any part of the Belize's territorial waters that make up the reserve. Those co-managers are the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association or TASA for short.
The organization is reporting that they have made extensive efforts to police the reserve, as they try to keep illegal fishing activities in this protect area to a minimum. This weekend, they carried out an operation to follow up on reports they received that gill net fishing was happening in a section of the reserve. Today, the Executive Director shared a few details with us. Here's what he had to say their enforcement practices to stop gill net fishing the area that they co-manage:
Valdemar Andrade- Executive Director, TASA
"Under SI, 111 of 2012, gill nets, among other things, beach traps, fish traps, are banned within the reserve, and so we have been - since we have taken over, and have had full patrols in the last 2 years, we have been clamping down on these matters. And we have had instances where we have found gill nets in the reserve. In some instances, we have found some fishers who are setting them, who have claimed ownership of them, but in many instances, we have found where the gill nets are set, because normally, they are set at night, or early in the morning. And in those cases, we just take it up as found property. The last time we dealt with gill nets before this time was on September 24th of 2017. On Sunday, November 11th, we dispatched a team of TASA conservation officers along with Coast Guard officers, because we got some information that there were gill nets in one of the islands. We went there; it was an abandoned fishing camp. We found 5 gill nets which were in severely damaged states, and one was completely intact with floaters. We confiscated all of them as found property because SI #111 of 2012, which deals with the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, does not allow anybody to have those nets in the reserve."
"For us, in our area, we don't find them very consistently. As I said, we would find 1 every so many months, and they are dealt with according to the law. For Turneffe, as I said, it is clear. It is not allowed, and so, we deal with it with the fishers, or confiscate the net, destroy them, and turn them over to the fisheries department."
From there, Andrade went into a brief and general discussion about gill nets; the societal problems and pressures that the Government is grappling with on this topic; and how gill net could be negatively affecting other valuable economic activities, such as sports fishing, commercial fishing, and tourism. Here's what he had to say about the Taskforce that's currently looking at this issue:
"I think more and more, we need to educate the fishers who use these, but also, the Cabinet basically has said that this is a situation that needs to be looked at, to see how we manage it going forward. So, they have called a task force that is currently being chaired by the Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, and Sustainable Development. The CEO is the chair - to look into this matter, to take both the science, to also look at the economics, to look - because it's a small scale fisheries issue, but it's also a sustainable livelihood issue for some fishers. And so, we have to look into the balance, but the key aspect of any illegal activity within the small scale fishing industry is enforcement. Without enforcement, it doesn't matter if it's banned or not banned, enforcement is the only way to be able to have people to abate using these things illegally, or education. You educate people about what is the severe issue because, if your setting this within areas that can be potential sport fishing areas, or diving areas, then you're doing one activity at the cost of another."
"There is a process in place with the task force. I think we should ensure that we support that process, and we should ensure that whatever information we put out on gill nets are factual information, they're based on scientific data, or they're based on factual data. Of recent, when the Tureffe Atoll Trust, and the Belize Federation of Fishers went into the media, you have to be careful of what you're saying because this is a very emotional issue for some fishers. It is also an economic issue, so we have to ensure that we create a balance between people and the environment, and also between ecosystem and economic resilience, and the benefit for all people."
TASA says that the fishers who get managed access to the Turneffe Reserve are strict in their sustainable fishing practices.
Studies done by the Turneffe Atoll Trust in 2011 indicated that at that time, the Turneffe Atoll Reserve was contributing 62 million US dollars annually to Belize's economy.