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Government & Politics

Coalition says only 3% use Gillnets so Ban it Now

The Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries held a press conference on Wednesday to release their findings on data received through the Freedom of Information Act request to the Belize Fisheries Department. The data that the organizations sought dealt specifically with gillnet use in Belize. Oceana’s Vice President for Belize, Janelle Chanona said that overall, only three percent of registered fishers were gillnet fishers. Oceana believes the small amount supports the coalition’s thrust for a ban on gillnet use in Belize’s territorial waters.

Jose Sanchez – Reporter: “An analysis of traditional fishing vs. best practices has placed concern on the future of Belize’s sustainable fishing industry. Avengers of gillnet use assembled to share data and express concerns that without an outright ban the industry can dissipate in a snap. Lifetime Fisheries advocate Mike Heusner also believes a gillnet ban is needed.”

Mike Huesner – Representative of Belize River Lodge: “The gillnets are nonselective killers, in fact, they are usually referred to as the wires of death. The gillnet does not know whether a fish is protected legally or not and if a permit, or a tarpon or any kind of fish swim into a gillnet it will die. Then we look at the value of those fishes that are dying in the gillnet as compared to their value to sport fishing. Just a venture or an estimate that fish on the market sold to the public for food is $5 to $10 per pound. Those same fish, fished alive by trap fishermen are worth thousands of dollars a pound I use the rough estimate of $10,000 US a pound for a live permit swimming in the sea as compared a dead permit sold on the market for $5 or $10 Bz a pound.

Jose Sanchez – Reporter: “Sports fisher Dirk Burgard regularly encounters visible evidence of discarded fish in shallow flats.”

Dirk Burgard – Fly Fisher: “We do fly fishing, sport fishing, spin casting. Most of the locations where we fish are in the shallow flats. There are days where we go to shallow flats and find a number of dead fish which are protected in Belize: The bonefish, permit, and tarpon. If there are fish that they can’t use or cannot sell they are just disregarding them in flat or on the shoreline. It is just disheartening to see that waste of fish when we are trying to keep a sustainable fishery going.”

Jose Sanchez – Reporter: “You can actually see the impact on the ground?

Dirk Burgard – Fly Fisher: “Yes from photos, we try to take photos of what is happening, as much as possible.”

Jose Sanchez – Reporter: “Calls from support organizations such as these prompted the collation to seek statistics regarding registered gillnet fisheries via the Freedom of Information Act. Oceana Belize Vice President Janelle Chanona says the numbers are so low it supports the argument of the band of disenfranchised fishers who use gill nets to supplement their fishing income.”

Janelle Chanona – Ocean Belize Vice President: “We ask for data between 2015 and 2018. We did not share any names today because this is not about the fishers who have legal gear. A gillnet is still legal under the laws of Belize, the collation feels strongly that it is not a best practice and that is why we are having this discussion towards a phase-out on a ban. From the data, we know that we don’t have any names for 2016. That is an error on the record keeping fault so we have names that correspond 2015, 2017, 2018. Nine people obtained a license consecutively for 2016, 2017,2018. Forty-one people got a license two years out of that three years meaning they could have gotten a license in 2015 and then they got another one in 2018. Thirty-seven fishers got licenses back to back in 2017 and 2018 so we have seen reports where there is a reference to hundreds of fishers. We now have the data that it is not close to that, in fact, overall we are talking about the fact that between 2015,2016,2017 and 2018 the number of gillnetters never exceeded 90 people, licensed gillnetters. A gillnet license cost $25 a year, there is no fee for the gillnets.

Jose Sanchez – Reporter: “So 3% of the overall population of registered fishers?”

Janelle Chanona – Ocean Belize Vice President: “Yes in 2017 we had 2716 fishers and we had 90 gillnetters that is 3.3%. In 2018 we had 2513 commercial licensed fishers, of that number 83 were gillnetters so that again put the percentage at 3.3% being the representative population of gillnetting.”

Nigel Martinez – Director of Belize Federation of Fishers: “This gear discriminates so we have decided to put out a position to join to collation and to ensure that we be apart of the change. We represent approximately forty to forty-five percent of the licensing gillnet fisheries currently right now. It is very important that we have a seat at the table to ensure that these guys who are going to be impacted will benefit from the resources that will be gathered to make this transition.”

Other organizations that support the ban on gillnet use, included the Belize Federation of Fishers and the Belize Tourism Industry Association.

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