We have heard of the work of the Belize Police Department in combating crime; we have heard of farmers in the north seeking alternatives to the sugar industry and we have heard of environmentalists fighting for sustainable development. What we are yet to hear about is the fight against the illegal fishing activities taking place in the Sarstoon River. It is an issue that has been brought up time and time again with activists appealing to the Government of Belize to have the issue addressed whereby the Guatemalans are coming over to our waters to fish. Wil Maheia of the Belize Territorial Volunteers took a trip to the Sarstoon yesterday and spoke to Love News on what he encountered.
“Yes we left Punta Gorda at about 8am yesterday morning and on our way to Sarstoon and just before we got to the mouth of the Sarstoon just north of the Forward Operating Base less than a mile away we encountered close to 20 Guatemalans that were fishing illegally in Belizean waters using gill nets and I just find that…. I think it is time for fisheries to also have apply the laws on Guatemalans even the people stationed at the forward operating base when they first opened the FOB they said that they were going to use it to enforce the laws. There was no Guatemalan military present as far as we could have seen but we saw a lot of illegal fishing taking place.”
As for the military presence, Maheia says the Belize Defense Force soldiers were posted in the area but he had only gone as far as the mouth of the river.
“I am just puzzled as to why the enforcement agencies there whether it’s coast guard or BDF or police that is stationed at the Forward Operating Base are not enforcing the regulations. Clearly the guys were illegally fishing, plus they were not only illegally fishing but they were using gill nets with small net sizes which is clearly illegal under Belize’s fisheries regulation so I would just hope that they don’t just arrest Belizeans because if Belizeans were doing this they would have been arrested so we would like that the law get enforced across the board not just on our own Belizeans but also on the Guatemalans that are clearly breaking the fisheries regulations.”
Incidentally, yesterday a group of seven Guatemalan activists ventured into the Sarstoon from Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. In a post made to the BELICE ES DE GUATEMALA page, there was a call for more Guatemalans to unite and form an organization that would lobby and help Guatemala to get back Belize.