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Jul 21, 2016

Gillnet Fishing Unabated on the Sarstoon River

Despite the presence of Belize Defense Force personnel at the forward operating base near the mouth of the Sarstoon River, enforcement of fisheries regulations does not fall within their purview.  As a result, the widespread use of gillnets by Guatemalan fisher folks in Belizean waters remains unchecked.  The conservation community, including environmental activities and the Belize National Coast Guard, recently weighed in on the indiscriminate and destructive nature of gillnet usage.  Notwithstanding a call for its ban, the use of large commercial fishing nets continues unabated at the southernmost tip of the country.  Earlier this week, activist Wil Maheia traveled to the Sarstoon with a team of international videographers and found that the practice is still very much the method of choice for Guatemalan fishermen.

 

On the Phone: Wil Maheia, Belize Territorial Volunteers

“This week so far, I’ve been to the Sarstoon area twice and both times I have been there and I just see a huge amount of Guatemalans setting their gillnets in Belizean waters. In fact, a couple of them had their gillnets within a few hundred yards of the forward operating base, so I have no idea what is the use or the purpose of the forward operating base. Yesterday, there were no less than a hundred Guatemalans. I had people who were with me, who could attest to this, who counted all these Guatemalans that were in the area, the amount of boats that were in the area. Each one of them had gillnets so I estimate that there was close to two thousand meters of gillnets in Belizean waters yesterday.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“And there was no enforcement to either prohibit them from doing this?”

 

On the Phone: Wil Maheia

“Absolutely no enforcement. There was a B.D.F. boat parked at the forward operating base the day before; I had an Irish film crew with me. They came to Belize to document it and they saw it for themselves. Yesterday, I had some Belizean Americans with me; they saw it and they could attest to it as well. The fact of the matter is that there seems to be zero enforcement. When they opened the base; at the opening, I’m sure if you go to your archives, Minister Saldivar and the other speakers Mister Lovell and all of them said that this base will also be used to enforce fisheries regulations and so far, none. There were actually fisheries officers at the opening of the base and so far that is the last time I see a fisheries boat in that area when the opening of the baser, since that time, there has never been a fisheries boat patrolling south of Punta Gorda.”

 

In related news, Mexican authorities are banning night fishing and gillnets in an area inhabited by the endangered vaquita marina porpoise in the upper Gulf of California. The national fisheries commission said fishermen in the protected area of the gulf, which is also known as the Sea of Cortez, will also have to leave and return from specially designated docks, to help enforce the measures. It said that gillnets, the use of which was already suspended in the area, are now prohibited permanently.

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