Oceana intensifies push to ban gill nets Print E-mail
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Friday, 24 May 2019 00:00

The Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries held a press conference on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 to share the data received through the Freedom of Information Act request to the Belize Fisheries Department. This public release saw a focus on gillnet fishing and its negative effects on fishing in Belize. According to Vice President of Oceana Belize, Janelle Chanona, the Coalition simply wants a phase-out of this type of fishing and its gear over time because of its impacts. Gillnet fishing, under the Laws of Belize, is legal but does not coincide with sustainable fishing. Through a phasing-out of this fishing practice, the Coalition wants to underscore that there will be a positive impact at sea, guaranteeing that Belizeans will in fact be able to depend on our national resources.

As it now stands, gill net fishing is largely practiced by illegal fishers in Belizean waters and a majority of the nets being deployed at sea are, in fact, prohibited. From data collected from the Belize Fisheries Department, more than 15,000 Belizeans are beneficiaries of Belize’s small scale fisheries. In 2017, there were 2,716 licensed commercial fishers of which, ninety obtained gillnet licenses. In 2018, there were 2,513 licensed fishers of which, eighty-three obtained gillnet licenses. Focusing on this data, there were only 3.3% of fishers using gillnets in both years. This then translates to mean that a majority of fishers using gillnets are illegal fishers.

When focusing on the meters of net used in accordance to Statutory Instrument #78 of 2011, 300 meters in length is the maximum length of net that any fisher is permitted to have in his or her boat at any one time. In 2017, there were 10,696 additional meters of net licensed outside of the legal limit. In 2018, there were 1,000 meters under the legal limit. “The majority of nets that we are finding at sea are illegal because even though they have a tag on it, they exceed what the law says each fisher should get.”

The Coalition received additional data which showed that in 2015, 2017, and 2018, only nine persons received licenses to practice gillnet fishing for the three years. A total of forty-one persons held licenses for only two of the three years, and thirty-seven held licenses from 2017 to 2018. The Coalition was of the belief that they were dealing with a population of hundreds of gillnetters using this gear but what this shows is that the number of people who are obtaining a license for gillnet use, legally, are dramatically lower. “So the takeaway is that more than 96% of our Belizean fishers do not use this gear. We endorse their position, that has been expressed, that there are other ways of catching fish.” Illegal users continue to be the main users of this gear and that fact is maintained since the nets are found in prohibited areas under the Laws of Belize. These illegal fishers are mostly targeting zone three, the area south of Belize City encompassing Dangriga and more southern regions.

The Coalition does stand in allegiance with Belizean fishers and their families that do depend on gillnet fishing and will ensure that they are adequately supported in order to replace this supplemental income. Their #1 goal is to keep Belizean fishers fishing for generations to come by their use of sustainable and selected fishing gear as well as through their adherence and commitment to best practices. Chanona says that the Coalition is “determined to support all efforts at improved enforcements to ensure that Belizeans are the sole beneficiaries of Belizean resources.”

In the wake of the repeal of the Maritime Act, the Coalition also believes that policy changes in regards to gillnet fishing will be instrumental in Belize’s assertion of its sovereignty from the median line at the Sarstoon to the Rio Hondo.

The hope of the Coalition is that Belizean fishers will practice sustainable fishing. They also do call out the mandate of the Belize Fisheries Department to ensure the exploitation of fisheries resources and to ensure consistency of the principles of ecologically sustainable development. This includes the conservation of existing fisheries resources by having regard to the impact of fishing activities on non-target species and the environment.

Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2019 14:10