Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries Releases Data on the Use of Gillnets
The data on fisherfolk in Belize is out….today at Radisson, the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries held a press conference to release the findings of data received from the Belize Fisheries Department through the Freedom of Information Act. The idea is to have government put in place a policy to phase out the use of gillnets, which is considered an indiscriminate and destructive fishing gear by conservationists. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
Official data from the Belize Fisheries Department has been released and the indication is that fifteen thousand Belizeans benefit directly from the country’s small scale fisheries. Found primarily along coastline communities, there are only two thousand, five hundred and thirteen licensed fishers. That’s approximately two hundred less licensed fishermen when compared to 2017 and of that amount, eighty-three are licensed to use gillnet, which amounts to a mere three point three percent.
Janelle Chanona, VP, OCEANA Belize
“We have been pushing for a very long time to get the data that we shared today because obviously making informed decisions are critical. And in terms, from our position, we wanted this data so that we know exactly who are using this gear, how many of them are using it legally so that we can identify for ourselves how much we need to bring to the table to make sure that they do not get lost so that they can be supported.”
The findings show that majority of nets are illegal; illegal fishers are the main users and more than ninety-six percent of Belizean fishers don’t use gillnets for commercial fishing. The Belize Federation of Fishers represents twelve fisheries associations across the country and all are in support of the ban. Representing forty-five percent of the licensed fishers in the country, they sit on the gillnet task force.
Nigel Martinez, Director, Belize Federation of Fishers
“For quite some time now, our membership have been bringing to the forefront that the banning of this gillnet is very essential for us to have a sustainable fishery. We have recognised it, we have ensured that we act upon it and it is part of what a sustainable fishery will be if we do not do something about it.”
Eworth Garbutt, National Sport Fishing Association
“Two excellent commercial fishing guys, they still up to—I hired them about two months ago—were still using gillnet. They have left gillnet and have no sight in their rear view to think about gillnet; in their word, it would be the past. To enlighten that, I have made the switch and I don’t know no one that has made the switch from tourism back to gillnet.”
The Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries comprises various stakeholders in the conservation and protection of the marine ecosystem. The organization has been clamouring for a ban on the use of traditional gear by providing financial and other mechanisms to support the transition. It is said that gillnets pose a threat to the environment and economy and with the data, the coalition will be able to present to government via the Gillnet Task Force.
“We are feeding that information into our proposal that we are going to share directly with the Gillnet Task Force. Two of our members who are also members on the Gillnet Task Force—the Belize Federation of Fishers and the Belize Game Fishing Association—will be presenting that complete proposal to the members of the task force and thereafter we hope to hear very soon from the ministry on how they will proceed. As Andrew from the Game Fishing Association highlighted, we are keen on fundraising for this, but no money can change hands until the law takes effect because our funders and interested parties are telling us straight out, we have heard promises. We do not want promises. Once the law is in place, the money can be dispersed to those fishers and the coalition will set the parameters under which that will happen.”
Vice President of OCEANA Belize, Janelle Chanona, says that with a change in policy, enforcement agencies such as the coastguard and the fisheries department will have clear-cut regulations in terms of monitoring and enforcement of gillnet laws. The primary users of this gear are illegal fishers from across the border. Records show that they are not only within the Sarstoon, but they have also been found fishing at Half Moon Caye atoll.
“We believe the primary percentage of that are trans-boundary fishers that are coming into Belize to take out our resources as quickly, but amassing a large quantity as much as they can and then taking that out. And that is the problem with this gear; it takes out a lot in a very short period of time and we are going to be left for the consequences because as one fisher told us very succinctly, when they are finished depriving and depleting our resources, they will go home. Where will the Belizean fisher go? If it is an outright ban, then any and everybody that is on the sea; that seas a gillnet in a boat; that sees a gillnet deployed; that sees a gillnet set at a river mouth will be able to say that’s an illegal net. It is not a process of going through the see if there is a tag; let me measure the mesh to see if it is correct, let me make sure that the tag corresponds to the fishing folk license.”