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Negative impacts of Gillnets in Belize

In recent weeks, when we hear the word “gillnet”, we tend to associate it with our fishermen, sustainable fishing, and the Belize Fisheries Department.  But exactly: what is gillnet and why are we having a debate about it?  Love News traveled to Placencia where we spoke with Grayson Sierra, a Members of the Placencia Sports Fishing Association and a tour guide who provided an explanation.

Grayson Sierra, Placencia Sports Fishing Association Member: “What happened is that they fish mainly for snook in this area with the gill net and tarpon and the bone fish sadly get caught because they share some of the same habitats where the snook is and they die. First of all a gill net the mesh when the fish go through it they get caught up and they try to squeeze their way in and they try to reverse out and by trying to reverse out their gills get caught in the thin net. The net is made out of thin lines and that gets caught in their gills and it sinks into their gills, their gills are like our lungs so when they try to move they can’t because they are stuck in the net and they die so it’s a big problem. ”

There are fears that if gill nets continue to be used it will negatively affect the future of the fishing industry and the tourism industry. Fly fishing is a very adventurous and attractive sports and it is from this sport that the tour guides in Placencia make their living.

Grayson Sierra, Placencia Sports Fishing Association Member: “Fly fishermen when fishing with us they would go anywhere from three to ten day trips so just imagine that, you multiply all the nights, all the food and they go on other tours too and sometimes they even bring their family so gill nets are killing the goose that lay the golden eggs. The fly fishing industry in Belize makes close to a $100 million every year, a little bit more than commercial and we’re talking about commercial in the grander scheme, gill net is a small fraction of commercial fishing. So it’s just common sense. Why do we still have gill nets in our country when it’s only a small amount of people that are using it ? I think it’s high time, I’m surprised that we still have it in our waters. It’s just devastating, you imagine today I catch a nice tarpon and that client feels so good, he kisses it and puts it back in the water and by evening time they come in their boat set that net across that creek and tomorrow that tarpon is gone and they can’t sell it because you can’t serve tarpon here in Belize because it’s illegal. So he cannot come back next year and catch that tarpon that is it, it’s gone. So my thing is that we should just ban it now.”

We understand that all the fishermen on the peninsula with the exception of one have stopped using the destructive gear.  Eworth Garbutt, the President of the Placencia Sports Fishing Association explains why he is no longer a gillnet user.

Eworth Garbutt, the President of the Placencia Sports Fishing Association: “The reason I made the switch back in right about ’98, ’99 we saw the depletion and so it bugged me when you go back. I see a lot of time they talk about the commercial fisherman feeling their livelihood being threatened and I am with them one hundred percent hence the reason we are saying to ban the gill net. It is hurting the goose that lays the golden eggs. My point is we are really close to the days of empty and its frightening to know that right now I can’t find one person in Belize that solely depends on gill nets. Listen what we do in Punta Negra, seasonal, you have lobster season that is where you make the biggest money, the rebates thing comes in that is how I bought my boat. Gill net is a side thing so when you use the term to say livelihood being threatened it’s bogus.”


For now, the debate continues as to whether or not to ban the use of gillnets. But in the meantime, our fishermen, the Placencia Sports Fishing Association and all other stakeholders are asked to submit their concerns and recommendation to the Fisheries Department. These concerns and recommendations will be vetted and reviewed by the Gillnet Task Force as well as an independent consultant in the hopes of arriving at a decision which will be beneficial to all.