Last week, we showed you how the Ministry of Blue Economy had to respond to an alarm raised by the Oceana Belize and the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries that the new government was considering lifting a ban on gillnet fishing in Belize.

The topic is back in the news because a group of pro-gillnet fishermen from the Belize Fishermen Cooperative Association has launched a lawsuit to challenge the ban in the Supreme Court. That case is in its very early stages, but, since the conservationists have been making their case in public on why the ban should remain, the BFCA came out swinging this morning with an extended press conference of their own. These fishermen made it clear that in their opinion, all this talk that gillnet being a destructive fishing gear is just propaganda.

Here are a few excerpts from their comments this morning:

The conservationists have since provided us with proof in the form of pictures to remind the public why gillnets can be devastating to the marine life accidentally caught up in the nets. They shared pictures of the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark and a manatee, discovered by Jamal Galves, which were killed because they got tangled up in gillnets.

This afternoon, the pro-gillnet fishermen also took on the assertion from the conservationists that there are fisherfolk in support of the ban. They told us these fishers don't depend on the gillnets as strongly as those who are in favor of it. Here's that comment:

Armando Ramirez - Chairperson, BFCA
"A lot of those fishermen that OCEANA is claiming that are fishers, they are not fishers, they are not commercial fishers, these are tour guides who happens to have a tour guide license and also a commercial fishing license, so on weekends they can go fishing. These are the guys that obviously their income is tourism so they will side with OCEANA but these are not the hardcore fishermen, these are not the guys who still remain in the industry, they were once fishers, yes I can't deny that, I know a lot of them but they have transitioned and I'm glad for them but they should never forget Belizeans and humans on a whole should never forget your past, never forget where you come from."

Daniel Ortiz
"As far as we're aware, that's only a small portion of the Belizean fishermen who indulge in this. Why is it that traditional fishermen such as yourself who practice gillnet fishing are refusing to transition to another form of fishing practices that exists?"

Armando Ramirez
"It's not that we are refusing, and we are refusing but let me explain that. Gillnet is not the only method. First there was - my way of fishing, gillnet, lobster, conch, fish drops, long line, beach drop, at least 6 ways but when you start with lobster, you don't go through the year with lobster, you do lobster, you do conch, you do fin fish, whether it's gillnet, hand line, fish drop, you move around. So, by the time you move around and you come back, you have given enough time for the stock to recoup. This is beyond science; it is before Belize ever heard the fancy terms of sustainable fishing. Fishers have been practicing this and I can attest to the fact that down south, from the time they move gillnet completely from the area because it's a marine reserve, our reserve had just drastically dropped, why? Because gillnet plays an important role in striking a balance."

We've seen several letters written by fisherfolk to the Ministry of the Blue Economy to make the point that the gillnet ban should remain.

OCEANA Meets the Ministry

And while the Belize Fishermen Cooperative Association group has OCEANA and the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries on the defence, the tables are turned for the Ministry of the Blue Economy.

Those two went crossway last week with each side sending shots across the other's bow. That led to a war of words in the press.

But, today, they agreed to sit down for a talk via teleconference. Last night on Uncut, OCEANA VP, Janelle Chanona told viewers what she hopes to come out of it.

Janelle Chanona - VP, OCEANA Belize
"I'm pleased to share that we have confirmed now a meeting with the Ministry of Blue Economy tomorrow at 11 o'clock and I think that is really going to be the first step that gets us past this rocky start."

Jules Vasquez
"It's a rocky start, he said in the release, he called it baseless attacks on the integrity of the ministry and will not be taken lightly and will be challenged vehemently every stop of the way and that's an accusation against the coalition for sustainable fisheries and OCEANA, that's strong words from the ministry."

Janelle Chanona
"Absolutely and I think there is also no denying that we continue to stand just as vehemently behind our press release but really gets us nowhere in terms of where there is obviously a disconnect but I don't see that the ministry and the NGOs on this issue are diametrically opposed. I have every hope and every reason to hope that we will have absolute clarity in terms of where we go next because I think all sides intend to be very candid and very clear. My takeaway from the press release was the ban will not be lifted."

Jules Vasquez
"It would be retrograde if the government equivocated or did not hold the line on the gillnet ban."

Janelle Chanona
"I always like learning new words from you Jules, yes it would be a capitulation as a conservation leader to lose any of the steps forward that have been taken."

Neither side has yet commented on what came out of today's meeting.

Channel 7