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Feb 21, 2019

Fisheries Department Talks Hicatee Regulations

On Monday, a police patrol near mile thirty-two on the George Price Highway intercepted a vehicle transporting eight live hicatees. The turtles were confiscated and released back into the wild. The seven persons inside the vehicle were all served with a summons of intended prosecution for the offences of fishing of female hicatee turtles greater than seventeen point two inches and transportation of more than five turtles. Now, you might say this sounds a bit odd, considering that locals have been fishing for hicatees for decades.  Well, it is because the country’s regulations for this critically endangered species only allow a person a certain quantity in their possession at a single time.  Reporter Andrea Polanco reports.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The Central American River Turtle or what we know locally as the hickatee is a critically endangered species. This reptile is now only found in Belize and parts of Mexico and Guatemala – it has just about disappeared from everywhere else in the world. While we still have one of the healthiest populations of this fresh water turtle across the length of this country – the species is still under threat. This turtle species is eaten in many rural villages in Belize. So, over hunting puts added pressure on the already vulnerable hicatee population.  It is for that reason the Fisheries Department regulates this species.

 

Beverly Wade

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator

“We understand that hicatees is important to us from a cultural standpoint, especially people in the rural communities. They have grown up for generations eating hicatees, but is our responsibility to put some control measures in place to ensure that the population remains viable in Belize. And so the bust really allowed us to remind the public what the Fisheries regulations are and to remind them that it is really up to us to ensure their conservation and long term survival in Belize.”

 

While the hickatee has a closed season that lasts for one month – from May 1st to the 31st. And so Belizeans can still hunt hickatee for personal consumption during the next eleven months of the year. You are only allowed a certain number for personal use and of specific sizes. Fisheries Officer Hampton Gamboa explains what you are and are not allowed to do when harvesting and having hickatee in your possession.

 

Hampton Gamboa

Hampton Gamboa, Supervisor, Conservation Compliance Unit, Fisheries Dept.

“People can only free dive. You are not to use nets for hicatees. Any one individual, according to the law, can only have three on their person. But if you are travelling with it in a vehicle, you cannot have more than five hicatees at any given time in one vehicle; it doesn’t matter how many people are in the vehicle. And then outside of that, we do have size limits for the female. The female hicatee has to be within the range of fifteen point two inches to seventeen point two inches. Anything larger than seventeen point two is considered oversized and anything less than fifteen point two is considered undersized. So, those two size groups are illegal because we are trying to protect the juveniles, as well as trying to protect the breeding stock.”

 

Eating wild meat is common practice and part of a cultural tradition for many. hicatee dishes are a hit at local fests and during the Lenten season, so this has pushed the demand for the selling and buying of the turtle. But as Gamboa explains, the sale of hicatee is prohibited and carries a heavy fine.

 

Hampton Gamboa

“It is illegal for you to be selling hicatees at these fests; like these village fests and so on, for instance La Ruta Maya coming up and so on. We don’t encourage that. People are advised not to be selling it because it is illegal. It carries a heavy fine if you are found to be committing any of the offences I previously mentioned. Even if you are selling it can cost you up to two thousand whether it is during the season or within the size limits I previously mentioned.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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