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Feb 22, 2016

Images of Sharks Caught in Gillnets Stir Major Outcry

There is outrage tonight in the conservation community as well as in other sectors due to a recent large kill of sharks near the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye at Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Images of dozens of dead sharks went viral on social media and according to the reports; the kill was carried out by some fishers who use gill nets and long lines. Three species of sharks were involved, including the Endangered Great Hammerhead and pregnant Caribbean Reef Sharks. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The practice of gillnetting, an everyday method of fishing employed for commercial and recreational purposes in salt and freshwater areas, is widely frowned upon locally.  For decades fishermen in Belize have been calling for a veto on gillnetting.  Despite all efforts, including an active campaign by Oceana, to raise public awareness on its impact, by and large those attempts have fallen on deaf ears.  That was until earlier today, when jarring images of a school of sharks caught using gillnets were posted on Facebook.

 

Janelle Chanona, Vice President, Oceana in Belize

Janelle Chanona

“Since 2010, Oceana has been advocating for a ban on gill nets and this was out of the result of the feasibility study that we did when we went about selecting campaigns to work on in Belize, of the fishermen saying, “We see the impact that gill nets are having and we would like to see a ban on the use of this gear.”  And they produced signed petitions that they had been sending to ministers of fisheries dated 1997.  So as an issue this is very old in terms of fishermen, Belizean fishermen saying, “I see the impact that this gear is having.  I am volunteering to give up this ban but others are coming in using this gear that’s so indiscriminate and is having an effect on my livelihood, on this resource that I depend on.”  So we have been wholly supporting the fishermen of Belize, since we started in Belize in 2010, saying the gill nets are so indiscriminate [that] they need to be banned from use in Belize.”

 

According to Janelle Chanona, Vice President of Oceana in Belize, the public outrage on social media, in the wake of what transpired near Lighthouse Reef, has once again thrust the issue into the spotlight.

 

Janelle Chanona

“I think this is where the use of technology certainly serves to highlight the scope of this issue.  Last February we had the instance of a rare scalloped hammerhead drowning in a gill net in Hopkins.  Two weeks ago we had another hammerhead, same thing, and I think Rocky Point, off Monkey River, and then today we saw Mar Alliance post several photos of hammerheads, of reef sharks, of tiger sharks, I believe, harnessed using gill nets.  Gill nets are used as the primary gear to harvest sharks and what this is showing you is just a snapshot of what has been happening.  And as keystone species, sharks are used to indicate the health of the ecosystem.  If we’re not managing how many sharks are being extracted that promises to put the entire ecosystem into an imbalance.  So the issue can be highlighted by what’s happening to sharks.  They can also, the indiscriminate nature of the nets are also having an impact on recreational fisheries.”

 

Fish can become snared in gillnets in one of three ways: either by being wedged, gilled or tangled.  Most often, however, they are caught by the gills.  Bycatch, as a result of gillnetting, has also affected artisanal and recreational angling.

 

Janelle Chanona

“As you know, tarpon, permits and bonefish are protected species in Belize but they don’t know when they are swimming into a gill net either.  So we have images, again documented by fishermen, by people out on the sea showing hundreds of bonefish just being chucked over the side, tarpon just being chucked over the side because that’s not what they’re after.  So they have all this waste and the fishermen, the recreational fishermen are saying look, someone can come to Belize and, you know, collectively spend five thousand dollars to get that one tarpon as part of a grand slam, it’s wasted now.  For five dollars, maybe if it makes it to the market, and at worst it’s getting chucked over the side and being completely wasted.  So, in terms of the health of Belizean fisheries, from a recreational point of view, from a biological point of view, from an economic point of view, everything is showing that gill nets are just a really bad idea.”

 

It is strongly believed that the sharks shown in the viral images online were caught by illegal fishermen trolling in Belizean waters.  Mar Alliance, a marine wildlife watchdog organization, has been actively involved in bringing awareness to the issue. Isani Cayetano reporting for News Five.

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