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Senators join call for ban of gillnet fishing

There is another pressing issue facing another important but often misunderstood fisheries sector. The managing of Belize’s natural resources is sometimes seen as a conservation versus a need for employment along with local consumption and export.  This has led to discussions on banning the use of gillnets, a divisive measure in the NGO community with groups who wish to work with fishers recognizing that traditional use in communities must be respected while others are campaigning for a complete ban on gillnet use. A proposed ban has been raised by Oceana and had the support of the Belize Coast Guard in 2016. The Belize Coalition for a Sustainable Fishery, which includes the Turneffe Atoll Trust, Oceans Belize, the Belize Federation of Fishers, Mar Alliance, the National Belize Sport fishing Association, and the Belize Game Fish Association, has been trying to establish an alternative to gill-nets that will support sustainable fishing. Aside from presenting the discussion on the media, press releases and talk shows, there hasn’t been much progress. But they now have the backing of two senators, Mark Lizarraga and Osmany Salas. On Wednesday, the Senators wrote Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade and said QUOTE “immediately institute a moratorium on the issuance of permits/licenses for the use of gillnets in Belize’s waters, with a view to completely phase out the use of gillnets,” UNQUOTE. Senator Lizarraga told Love News that they have joined the call to ban gillnets after witnessing firsthand the magnitude of the situation and its impact at the Sarstoon River during their visit there on November 10th.

Mark Lizarraga, Senator:  We encountered many dories and boats filled with gillnets, gill fishing in the area. And we were told for the most part, these people are not Belizean,. Although some of them were in vessels with Belizean markings on them. But nevertheless we believe that this type of practice is detrimental not only to our tourism and fisher folks and to our fisheries but also to our national food security. It is an initiative that has been taking place. I think we are just adding our voices to this choir. The people in the south that we met have told us it has been an issue that has been reported, there are other NGO organizations that have championed for this very cause. I think it just dawned on us when we saw just how big this Guatemalan village was, how many houses there were on their side of the river, how many boats we encountered on our side and their side of the river and all of them prominently displaying gillnets. So this community obviously lives off this type of fishing that we believe is unsustainable. We have a responsibility to deploy policies that will lend to the sustainable development and harvesting of our resources in our country for the betterment for all our people, not just a few for a week or a few weeks or a few months. So it behooves us as a nation to put into place strategies and policies that are sustainable. Again to protect these valuable resources for Belizeans for generations to come.

The Ministry of Fisheries announced the formation of the Gillnet Task Force to “reduce the harmful impacts of gillnets” back in February of this year, but not much has come out of that since it was formed. The Senators’ letter was copied to several other interested parties including the Prime Minister Dean Barrow, several NGOs and government ministries.