Stakeholders, environmentalists and those involved in protecting our seas have been alert for some time now as it relates to the capturing of sharks for commercial purposes. It is an activity that OCEANA Belize has been lobbying against for some time and with a large kill of sharks that was uncovered at the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, the concerns by various individuals and entities have increased; so much so that a move to have gillnetting banned has been activated. Love News spoke with the President of the Belize Game Fish Association, Andrew Roe, who told us that our sharks have become vulnerable to what is referred to as gillnetting.
“Gillnetting is a form of fishing that is very indiscriminate, it involves just setting a long piece of net that can be from anywhere between 100 feet to several hundred feet and it’s cast across the water usually at night because it reduces the visibility of the net and it catches anything that it comes in contact with. It’s referred to as the walls of death. Anything can swim into it and anything can be killed. So a shark is extremely easy target for a gill net and not just sharks, Manatees, dolphins, turtles it’s not a targeted form of fishing. It’s not like going out there saying that you are going to catch some snappers, it’s more like I’m going to catch whatever comes into this net and that is why it’s so completely unsustainable. It’s usually used where there is spawning aggregations of fish which is not the time you want to be fishing for these species because it’s when they are reproducing and so they can maximize the use of the net and it catches as many fish as possible and wiping out a shoal of breeding fish has massive detrimental effects to that population. You’re taking away the mom and dad and if there is no mom or dad there will be no babies.”
As Roe mentioned, gillnetting is detrimental and so is shark fishing; an activity that is also frowned upon as several industries can end up failing in some years thus leading to a potential loss of jobs for hundreds of persons and severe implications for our economy.
“On both cases the shark fishing as well as the gill netting you sitting at home may think “They killed 50 sharks at Lighthouse Reef, big deal it doesn’t mean much to me but in reality Belize’s economy is one of the main drivers of the economy. I think that the effects of tourism in 2014 was somewhere in the region of $1.3 billion dollars on our economy. One if five people are employed either directly or indirectly with tourism so today 50 sharks killed doesn’t matter to me but if that trend continues or of the trend of catching using gillnets to kill snook, bone fish and tarpon if these sorts of things continue our tourism industry will be impacted. It may not be today or tomorrow but five or ten years down the road when the tourism industry has failed because people don’t want to come see a dead reef and they don’t want to go fishing and not catch anything, those one in five jobs will start to disappear; that $1.3 billion dollars today which will be multiple billion dollars in the future will no longer be there and it will have an impact on every single person in this country.
Efforts in having the gillnet fishing banned have been made and there have been some outreach to the Government officials.
“We have been working for some time with NGO’s as well as government authorities. We’ve had conversations with fisheries and it’s something that they are very concerned about. They see it as something that is of extreme importance to their ministries and portfolios. It’s difficult because they just like everything else they need the resources to fight it and they need the support of the public. At the end of the day the government works for the people and if we the people are the ones who want this changed we need to be the ones who fight for it and we need to be the ones to work for it and we’ve been at it for some time and I feel like it’s starting to gain ground. Unfortunately it takes bad events and something like this for people to begin to realize that something is going on and we need to make a change.”
The Belize Game Fish Association has been around for about 25 years and is made up of local sports fishermen who not only organize fishing events but they also lobby for the best interest of the marine life.