The Fishing Industry is an essential part of the Belize’s economy and there are fishing regulations in place to sustain the industry. In this regard, various patrols take place on a regular basis at sea to ensure that fishermen are in compliance. Captain Elton Bennett, the Vice Commandant of the Belize Coast Guard shared the role of the coast guard in this endeavor.
Captain Elton Bennett the Vice Commandant of the Belize Coast Guard: “Enforcement is a big part of what we do and the fishing industry in Belize is very diverse. It contributes significantly to the economy of Belize and so we participate as Fisheries officers in support of the Belize Fisheries Department but also in support of other NGOs who are mandated to combat Fisheries enforcement operations and so all of the partols that are deployed from here are tasked to conduct Fisheries enforcement so that is a big part of that in terms of the patrolling the Marine Parks and supporting those NGOs. It’s a routine check that we do, once we would encounter a vessel, we would inspect that vessel for a wide range of things: we are looking at sea worthiness certificate, we are looking at masters license but we are also looking at those products, the catch that those individuals would have on board and so we would measure that catch, we would confirm if it is in or out of season and once we find and infraction those persons will be detained or either arrested or handed over to the relevant authority, the Fisheries Department in this case in order for them to prosecute, the product as well is handed over to the Fisheries Department.
Gillnet has been the source of much controversy amongst the fishermen and many organizations have been calling for its ban. Captain Bennett shared how the Coast Guard have been dealing with gillnet encounters.
Captain Elton Bennett the Vice Commandant of the Belize Coast Guard: “A debate is ongoing now between Fisherfolks and the Fisher Industry and the Government of Belize’s position is that we have created a task force to look at the use of gillnets so there are studies being conducted now to determine to what extent gillnet is being used and to what extent it is damaging the environment and so there is a meeting scheduled on January of this year where a task force is meeting again to sort of compile data and continue the debate. From the Coast Guard perspective we are enforcing whatever law the Government of Belize puts in place and for now gillnet is still legal under certain conditions and so that is the extent of our enforcement and if we would encounter a gillnet depending on where it is located, if its near the reef or cannot be placed in that location, if it’s near a bar mouth or a river entrance, it cannot be at that location and then there is also limitation on the size of the mesh and so those are the things the Coast Guard patrol looks at but for now Gillnet is still legal.”