As many are aware, the lobster season officially close next month on the 15th. A close relative of lobster, the shrimp, also occupies an important niche in the Belize fishing industry. Through the years, the spotlight has been on the shrimp industry as many local restaurant and hotel owners have voiced their concerns regarding the amount of shrimp made available for domestic sale. The increasing demand for shrimp in Belize has led to the arrival of many commercial shrimp aquaculture operations over the past decade. Aside from its importance as an export, as well as its appeal as a seafood delicacy, shrimp also possess a valuable role in the coral reef ecosystem and are linked to one of the most endangered of marine creatures. Throughout the world there are over 2,000 species of shrimp that are found in shallow and deep ocean, as well as in freshwater lakes and streams. In addition to lobster, shrimp are closely related to crabs and crayfish. A semitranslucent body, as well as a flexible mid-section and fanlike tail, characterizes these creatures. Shrimp have evolved appendages allowing them to be skilled swimmers, as well as long antennae that assist in signaling approaching danger or potential prey. Most shrimp species range in length from three millimeters to more than 20 centimeters, with larger species known as prawns.
Shrimp reproduction varies with each species, but generally the male shrimp fertilizes the larger female, after which the female lays anywhere from 1,500 to 14,000 eggs! The female usually guards the mass of eggs for a few weeks until they hatch and larvae emerge. After passing through five different stages of development, the larvae become mature shrimp.
It is these mature shrimp that are targeted by shrimp trawls throughout the world. A trawl is essentially a fish netting device that is dragged along the ocean floor. In the early part of the decade, shrimp trawling became newsworthy when it was noted that the decline of sea turtles was linked to trawling; trawls were not only collecting shrimp, but also sea turtles. Since then, it has become mandatory that all trawls be equipped with a Turtle Excluder Device (TED), allowing sea turtles to escape from the nets.
In Belize, where there were once 11 trawls, now only five remain, all of which are reported to have TEDs. The primary area of trawling in Belize includes Victoria Channel and south of Belize City to Placencia. There has been a general decline in annual shrimp harvests which is likely due to overexploitation, despite a regulated closed season of April 15th - October 31st. The Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute is concerned with the current shrimp population and recommends that not only should the closed season be revised, but shrimping must be prohibited within a specified distance from the shoreline. In addition, it seems likely that commercial aquaculture facilities will continue to increase in an attempt to compensate for decreasing natural stocks.
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