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Apr 4, 2002

Fisherman busted w/net full of local delicacy

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For most Belizeans, if you say the word “Hicatee”, immediately images of the tasty turtle meat simmering in plenty of gravy on top a bed of hot white rice spring to mind. But before you get your taste buds going, remember that while the season is now open, if you’re caught with undersized specimens of the specie, you’re looking for trouble. Ann-Marie Williams has the story of one man who found that out the hard way.

Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting

According to fisheries laws and regulations, it is illegal to have more than three hicatees in your possession at any one time or have more than five hicatees in a vehicle while travelling. On Wednesday, Wallington Russell, a resident of Bermudian Landing Village, and a licensed tour guide was arrested and charged after he was found with eleven hicatees he had caught by net in the river near the village of Isabella bank.

Rigoberto Quintana, marine Aquaculture Officer

“We caught about seven people that were diving. Out of those, we caught one person that had eleven hicatees in their possession. We collected the specimens and bring it to the department.”

Although the season for the hicatee on Dermatemys Mawii is open, Rigoberto Quintana, marine aquaculture development officer at the Fisheries Department, says catching them in a net is a big no, no.

Rigoberto Quintana

“People set net across of the river. Yesterday these people have seven people diving and whatever they can’t ketch with hand, they chase the hicatee, they buck up in the net and get tangled, and right there they capture them. Due to the over exploitation of the hicatee, these laws were passed. In Mexico and other parts of Central America, these turtles are being over exploited and they are almost depleted right now in the rivers.”

A depleted river stock is what some villagers illegally capitalise on, especially during this time if year when hicatee are often sighted.

Rigoberto Quintana

“We get information that people are selling them for like up to seventy dollars per hicatee. Last week from that same area, about fifty-six hicatees came out from that same area with that crew that was diving yesterday. They are very valuable due to the Easter that just pass, and then other shows come like agriculture show and Crooked Tree festival, and people sell them, hicatee and white rice.”

Fisheries Inspector Errol Diaz cautions Belizeans that if they plan on hunting or buying the hicatee, it has to be of a certain size.

Errol Diaz, Fisheries Inspector

“Our size requirements would be forty-three centimetres and that would be considered legal. The seventeen point two inches from the corpus length would make that turtle also legal. The size requirements really are detrimental, because if you take all the small ones, then you can’t have big ones. And with this situation, monitoring and surveillance by the Fisheries Department, we’re trying to control the size population through these regulations set as statutory instruments by the government. The females are more so important because all the reproduction is coming from the females.”

And although people have been catching both female and male hicatees for years, if you’re found in contravention of the 1993 fisheries laws, you will face strict penalties.

Errol Diaz

“Consequently, Mr. Russel will face three charges. And the penalties for those charges would be anywhere a hundred and five hundred dollars. It would be anywhere between two hundred and five dollars cost of court, depending on various charges. He is being charge with possession of hicatee, to transport more than five is considered illegal. To have more the three in your possession is also illegal. He will be charged with fishing without a valid fisherman license, abetting the individuals that were with him, and he will also be charged for setting a net illegally, cross and cross the river mouth.”

Ann-Marie Williams for News 5.

According to Fisheries Aquaculture Officer, Rigoberto Quintana, Wallington Russel will be arraigned tomorrow.

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