Fisheries makes big bust

By
Updated: September 18, 2017

The Fisheries Department with the assistance of the Belize Audubon Society made a huge bust of out of season conch over the weekend. After receiving a tip, the teams held a joint operation and conducted a search of fishing camps on Light House Reef.  Fisheries Officer in the Supervised Enforcement department, Hampton Gamboa says they found about twenty men who worked three vessels. Now, while these men were not found in possession of the conch that has been confiscated, their catch did not match the time they said they had spent fishing in the area and the team became suspicious.

Hampton Gamboa, Fisheries Officer

“There wasn’t enough products for the amount of days the individual said they were on site. So that right away sent a red flag to us, we didn’t see any fish, no lobster and they were already there for ten days. Upon searching the mangrove area approximately a mile or a mile and a half away from the fishing camp we found one freezer hidden within the mangrove. Officers opened the freezer and that was where we found eleven transparent plastic bags with conch in there. It is believed that these plastic bags weigh approximately 50 pounds when it’s completely filled could hardly be tied. After that we moved north of that area that we found the first icebox; upon searching another approximate mile and a half we came across another icebox where we found 9 transparent bags at this time. Upon checking the freezer that we found on the mangrove officers came across 9 transparent plastic bags with conch approximately the same quantity. This is on Northern 2 which is one of the two most northern islands of Lighthouse Reef. After the operation was concluded in that area we moved further south to Long Caye which is the second most southern island on Lighthouse Reef; while doing a search there in the afternoon officers were again aggressively combing inside the mangrove and along the beach when one of our officers came across two iceboxes hidden well among the mangroves. These two iceboxes didn’t have bags in them but were completely filled to the maximum that it could hold in terms of conch.”

The conch amounted to an incredible amount of 8,980 individual conchs, weighing in at about 1, 543 pounds. At least half of the conchs are undersized. Gamboa says they have an idea of who the conch belongs to but because the conch was not found in the direct possession of anyone, they are unable to prosecute anyone. The department suspects that they came across an operation that may be smuggling conch into Honduras.

Hampton Gamboa, Fisheries Officer

“That is what we believe is happening out there and it’s unfortunate and majority of the people who we suspected to be involved the oldest to my knowledge is about 32, most of them are in their twenties and mid-twenties who are involved in this type of activity.”

 

 

Reporter

“Beyond just busting this product what else can be done to curb that operation you suspect is happening?”

Hampton Gamboa, Fisheries Officer

“Well one of the ways that we can approach it is by having more operations but of course these joint operations do cost a lot of money the resources that we have at fisheries as it relates to fuel and that type of cost effect is tremendous so we are grateful for Belize Audubon Society who helped us with that venture in going out and conducting this operation they have definitely assisted us with fuel and also with some man power for us to be out there. To curb this type of operation means that we need to have more presence out there. Lighthouse reef if 50 miles from Belize City so therefore you have to be on sight for you to observe and be vigilant and for you to curb this type of activity.”

Light House Reef is one of the most productive area for conch when the season opens but Gamboa says that they cannot say exactly how this illegal harvest, and several alleged out of season harvests, will affect the conch season.

Hampton Gamboa, Fisheries Officer

“People say it’s something that has been happening from the beginning of the season, nobody came in in terms of the hotline. You can call the fisheries line at 224-4552 plus the crime stoppers or even the police because we have a very good relationship with their hotline. The information wasn’t forthcoming until last week so it’s just people speculating or saying ‘Oh it’s a long time they have been doing it.’ The truth of the matter is that we probably don’t know how many trips have gone across the border of this nature but if you’re going to look at it from a holistic point of view then it’s probably a tremendous amount that was shipped across the border. If it’s true that during the whole closed season this type of activity was happening.”

Reporter

This was taking off season do you have a market value for it because I believe in the offseason they sell it a lot more expensive?

Hampton Gamboa, Fisheries Officer

“No no, in the offseason most people won’t take the chance of purchasing it from you so therefore you are working for a little bit of nothing hence the reason why they tried to get the large amount. So it’s probably running about $5 or $6 a pound which is still when you look at 1,500 ponds times $5 it’s still over seven thousand dollars easy.”

According to Gamboa, if in the coming season there is a shortage of conch, consumers will likely see a hike in price. The team also confiscated 121 undersized lobsters from thirteen persons. The men were intercepted north of Half Moon Caye on Saturday shortly before one in the afternoon. When the officers weighed the tails, they did not exceed four ounces. Thirty-one year old Delcio Tun, one of 13 fishermen from Chunox Village was charged with the possession and pled guilty to the charge when he appeared today before Magistrate Aretha Ford. Tun was fined two hundred and fifty dollars plus five dollars court cost and he was given until October 18 to pay. If he defaults on payment, he will serve two months in prison. In addition to that he was fined twenty dollars for each lobster, which amounted to two thousand two hundred and forty dollars. If he defaults on payment it will be distress. The charge was withdrawn from the others. According to the department officials, the confiscated conch and lobster will be distributed to feeding programs in various schools.