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Populations at Belize's spawning aggregation sites dwindle #539974
01/09/20 06:15 AM
01/09/20 06:15 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 70,402
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

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Marty  Offline OP

Scarcity In The Sea Of Love

For most people, when they cook or order fish at a restaurant, they only think of how fresh and tasty it is and..dig in.

But how much thought is really put into the fisher who caught it, or what area of Belize's waters it was caught in?

Maybe we should start considering it.

Fisheries is a crucial sector for Belize's economy and for livelihoods of fishers on the ground. But like everything else, there must be a balance and proper management. Spawning aggregation sites provide that balance and, more importantly, these sites replenish fish stocks.

Well, the bad news is that fish populations at Belize's spawning aggregation sites have dwindled over the years and it is cause for concern and attention.

In another one of Courtney Weatherburne's special features, she goes beneath the surface to find out what is happening at these sites and what the authorities are doing to tackle it. This story was produced with the support of Internews' Earth Journalism Network. Here's her report:

For a first-time diver, facing this grand school of fish may be daunting and off-putting, and if you are prudish, maybe even a little gross, that's because these fish are reproducing - the males release sperm forming the milky white substance in the water and the females release their eggs. It's like a fascinating, frenzied, fertility dance. For the fish, they could care less about who is watching.

There are 13 protected spawning aggregation sites in Belize and every year at a specific time, multiple species of fish gather at these sites to spawn.

Dr. Leandra Cho -Ricketts, Chairperson, Belize SPAGS Working Group
"Fish learn these sites over time so it is, I guesswe don't know the exact process but we know it is learned behavior and scientists have observed in the past you know juveniles, fish that are not sexually mature they are at the site. So you know they conclude that or they infer that they are there to learn and see what happens."

And quite a lot of action had been happening at these sites for decades.

The Belize Spawning Aggregation Working Group has been actively monitoring 8 of these sites since the early 2000's.

Myles Phillips, Marine Science Coordinator, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
"Our work with spawning aggregations began about 20 years ago actually in 2000, 2001 with the formation of the working group for the spawning aggregations and our organization was pretty pivotal as I understand it to the formation of that group."

Dr. Leandra Cho -Ricketts, Chairperson, Belize SPAGS Working Group "The main role of the SPAGS working group is to manage the various SPAG sites we have through monitoring in particular and getting that information to the fisheries department and co-managers to inform how these sites are doing."

Well, they're not doing so well. Over the last 15 years there has been a decline in the fish population at these sites.

One of the species of fish that has shown a tremendous downturn is the Nassau Grouper which is now critically endangered. There was a flourishing population at the Northeast point aggregation site in the Glovers Reef Atoll, but that is not the case anymore.

Myles Phillips, Marine Science Coordinator, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
"In the 60's and 70's when Nassau Groupers was the most caught fish in Belize or British Honduras then, they were seeing these fish at these sites, it was estimated in the tens of thousands of fish coming to breed every winter season but now you are very lucky that at any of these sites you see more than a few hundred."

Another site that has shown steady decline in the snapper population is Gladden Spit Silk Cayes Marine Reserve.

It is situated on what is locally called the elbow of the reef, a few miles east of Placencia. It is the only active site that allows traditional fishers to fish and local tour guides to conduct whale shark tours from March to June.

Brian Young has been a fisher and tour operator for 30 years and says he has personally witnessed the decline at Gladden Spit.

Brian Young Sr., Seahorse Dive Shop, Founder
"Those school of snappers were so huge then, they were so huge that I could dive down and find them easily over the years, I have been using sonar when we start using sonar to find the school of snapper and I will give you an example, I am going with my sonar and I hit the school of fish and I am not kidding I would continue driving for like 3, 4,5 minutes before I pass through the school of fish."

"What is so sad right now, Courtney, is that I can't even find a school of fish. I watch that school of fish deteriorate right down to the last two years when I am looking for that school of fish if I take my eye off the sonar and look back I can pass the school of fish that quickly and that small the school of fish is."

Now although there are site restrictions in Gladden Spit, Young says foreign fishers still come at night to fish.

Brian Young Sr., Seahorse Dive Shop, Founder
"So when we ban night fishing, no Belizeans is out there, only Guatemalans and Hondurans are coming across to fish, mostly the Hondurans to fish at night so they had that freedom to fish from 2000 to now."

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator
"95 percent of the illegal fishing that happens on the site is transboundary incursions, primarily from Hondurans. It is a lucrative business for them, we have come to recognize that it is highly organized from there end where you will have fleets coming into our waters to fish at night, I am not just talking about one boat, I am talking to about 15 boats and some nights 20 boats."

"Illegal fishing is our achilles heel, it is the activity that undermines everything that we have put into the place, it undermines the willingness from the fishers themselves to put down restrictions, it undermines all of the resources, limited resources that we have that we put into the management of these areas and it undermines the very resource we are trying to protect."

But of course, these foreign fishers don't care about the protection of Belize's fisheries. They exploit the resource and personnel gaps the fisheries department and other enforcing agents have.

The Southern Environmental Association who co-manages Gladden Spit Silk Cayes Marine Reserve in Placencia has to try to address this setback as well.

Denise Garcia, Science Program and Fisheries Manager, Southern Environmental Association (SEA)
"So last year we had 5 Honduran fishers who were arrested for illegally fishing at that site at night, this year alone we have arrested 6 Honduran fishers."

"We are mandated to patrol the site during the day and also at night."

"However we can't afford to have a patrol team 24 hours, ideally we would like to do that so what has happened is that we need to prioritize so patrol happens at different peaks throughout the year and spawning aggregation is our peak time to do more night patrols."

Over the last two years, the Fisheries department has partnered with the Belize Coast Guard to increase night patrols at spawning aggregation sites. The hope is that this collaboration will make a difference.

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator
"The coast guard has now committed to work with the fisheries department to now have targeted efforts, targeted programs to now see how we can deter and prevent what is happening."

"I am firmly of the belief that at least from the commitments and the indications that I have got from the higher offices of the Coast Guard that I think we will be able to now be able to make a sustained dent in deterring the illegal fishing that is happening out there."

The Comprehensive Fisheries Reform law which was recently introduced in the House of Representatives also acts as a deterrent for illegal fishing through increased fines.

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator
"What it has done is to significantly revise the fines and penalties that is currently in our regulatory framework to now at a level that we think would serve more as a deterrence to these types of infractions, it also provides more powers to the fisheries officers."

Aside from increased patrols and fines, there needs to be more research and regional collaboration to better understand all the factors that contribute to the decline in fish population at these sites.

Dr. Leandra Cho -Ricketts, Chairperson, Belize SPAGS Working Group
"This is a part of the plan for the working group in the new year is to develop a project that will look at research that is trying to determine physical conditions at these sites so getting temperature data at the sites and tracking that overtime but also looking at studying their behavior more through acoustics to see what they are doing they could just be moving because the sites are no longer what they like. Or it could be illegal fishing or more fishing disturbances so."

"There is a recent project being implemented called MAR fish through the MAR Fund where they are looking at building the capacity across the region for SPAGS monitoring and protection of those and developing a regional approach."

It is the only effective approach to respond to the threats to Belize's marine resources. These threats can have irreversible impacts on livelihoods, the economy and the health of the Mesoamerican reef.

Denise Garcia, Science Program and Fisheries Manager, Southern Environmental Association (SEA)
"Fishing alone contributes to the Belizean economy, it contributes to the livelihoods of fishers and their families and the fishing communities but also it ensures food security in Belize, tourism is a big economic contributor here to the country and to the GDP in terms of spawning aggregation sites, it is important to protect these areas because this is our source of larvae of fish especially commercially important fin fish such as snappers."

"It is important to manage these sites and ensure it's protection because it replenishes the fish population of our area, not only of Gladden Spit but adjacent areas if we want to think of all the spawning aggregation sites throughout the country of Belize, we have a network of sites, these sites are replenishing the entire seas in Belize if we think from a regional perspective they are replenishing the entire Mesoamerican reef."

The underwater stills and footage are courtesy photographer Tony Rath.

Hondurans Overfishing Gladden Spit

So as you heard from the story, 95 percent of illegal fishers who fish at night at Gladden Spit are Hondurans. But how about our very own Belizean fishers? Are they among the illegal foreign fishers too? Well, Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade says she doesn't believe that our fishers are the problem, that's why only licensed Belizean traditional fishers who are allowed to fish in Gladden Spit during a set time of the year.

Wade told us more about the requirements needed to become a licensed traditional fisher and the new study the Southern Environmental Association and the Fisheries department are working on to better manage the catch of traditional fishers.

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator
"It really looks at having a history of earning a livelihood from that site so we have a lot of difficulty sometimes because some people are saying I am from an adjacent community like in Gladden Spit area and I think I should have a license for there and our thing is no we had a set time so Government of Belize as we approached how we would have managed fisheries had a set time that we said that this is a set time that we would allow people to come for new licenses, we do look at cases, one of the things we do at Gladden Spit is that some fishermen might want to give up their license and give it to their son or nephew or somebody right but it kind of a closed scenario so you have a set number of license so for 2019 we only licensed 85 fishers for that side, we do not see that expanding tremendously because it is there as I said as an area that traditional fishers for generations have gained their livelihoods from and those are the people we want to see continue benefiting but we are also cognizant that there is a need to control effort in the area so that is why we would not open it up for anybody who wants to make a case."

"We really haven't put catch limits on them but we are doing some studies with some researchers in partnership with the co-managers in Gladden Spit to now kind of do a status of the population that is there right, that is part of the different approach that were there from the very beginning when that area was characterized and so we are looking at having an understanding of the population to also explore as I said before what the fishers are saying to see if the fish has really, well not what used to be there but if there are aggregations that are outside of that boundary that we have declared because you know we have to declare a physical boundary and go a step further and look at things like catch limits to even see if the current number of fishers we have is really the number of fishers we should have."

Channel 7


Did you know that over the years, gillnets have been the gear of choice for illegal fishers?

Check out this great feature on the importance of Spawning Aggregations in Belize and how various factors, including illegal fishing, have negatively impacted our fisheries over the years.

For most people, when they cook or order fish at a restaurant, they only think of how fresh and tasty it is and..dig in.

But how much thought is really put into the fisher who caught it, or what area of Belize’s waters it was caught in? Maybe we should start considering it.

Fisheries is a crucial sector for Belize’s economy and for livelihoods of fishers on the ground. But like everything else, there must be a balance and proper management. Spawning aggregation sites provide that balance and, more importantly, these sites replenish fish stocks.

Well, the bad news is that fish populations at Belize’s spawning aggregation sites have dwindled over the years and it is cause for concern and attention.

In another one of Courtney Weatherburne’s special features, she goes beneath the surface to find out what is happening at these sites and what the authorities are doing to tackle it. This story was produced with the support of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network. Here’s her report:


Re: Populations at Belize's spawning aggregation sites dwindle [Re: Marty] #539977
01/09/20 07:10 AM
01/09/20 07:10 AM
Joined: May 2000
Posts: 6,939
San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye...
Amanda Syme Offline

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Amanda Syme  Offline
We cannot afford NOT to have 24 hours surveillance to protect our marine industry.


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