Guatemalans trawling in Belize’s southern waters
Belize became the first country in the world to completely ban bottom trawling in December 2010. A statutory instrument made it illegal to carry out trawling in Belizean waters. The initiative was the brainchild of Oceana Belize which bought the last two operational trawlers from a local fishing cooperative. But in the south of the country, a well known activist claims he has recently seen numerous Guatemalan trawlers in Belize’s waters. News Five spoke to Oceana Vice President for Belize, Audrey Matura Shepherd about the disturbing allegations.
“Mister Maheia has forwarded some comments regarding seeing Guatemalan trawlers in Belizean waters. What is Oceana’s reaction to this?”
Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President, Oceana Belize
“Well he did contact me and informed me that he suspected that it was about twenty-two Guatemalan trawlers he saw trawling in Belizean waters. My thing to him was simply that I would want him to present me with some kind of documentation or evidence. He said he had some. But if that is true, the important thing that we need to note is that there is a ban on all forms of trawling in this country. That is a ban that, thanks to this administration, put into effect since 2011. And so all I can say is that we are totally against such act. I would view it as an act of aggression by the Guatemalans against us; one and two, it is obvious the duty of our law enforcement authorities to make sure that the ban that was instituted is enforced. We are an NGO and we cannot go out and enforced; we are not cloaked with that enforcement power. Therefore the government would have to do it through the coastguard and I know that we also have some rangers down south. The important thing with that however is that these poachers and illegal fishers will come at night when our patrols are not out. So we have to be more strategic in how we decide to go after them. So that is important. We condemn it and definitely we need to look now how, as the NGO that pushed for this ban, we try to make sure the enforcement is possible.”
“At this time, we are currently discussing whether or not we will be going to the ICJ. There are debates about the validity of our Maritime Areas Act. Do you see then that this particular alleged incident having to play a national role in the debate of where Oceana stands regarding our own territorial waters?”
“That’s a very loaded question; a lot of prospective you put into it. The Maritime Act surely cannot trump our constitution; our constitution is clear as to what constitutes our territory. The Sapodilla Range is part of our territory. Although the maritime act, what they did is in good faith, did not state the full claim, you have to remember that the constitution is above that. But even in that good faith, it doesn’t mean that the Guatemalans can come and do anything in our territory. And so I think there is a lot of overlap and there is a lot of misunderstanding as to what people believe the maritime act allows. But whatever your doubt is, be assured there is only one answer to it all; your constitution is your supreme law. And that is why when the government tried through the ninth amendment turned eighth amendment to amend what we call the supremacy clause which si section two of the constitution, they were doing us as a nation a disservice. But thanks to the recent case that went before the court and has not been appealed; that clause that was amended by the government is null and void. So they do not have to go back to assembly and undo that because by the virtue of the decision of the court that is null and void. And so that is a plus for us because it then means that no one can then say that they have the power to change anything in our constitution when it comes to our territorial boundaries. And so with that said; that there is no nullity of that and no one can try or make any attempt, the constitution stands supreme, our boundaries are supreme. We are entitled to our twelve nautical miles, not three and that means that Guatemalans have no right to come and trawl or do any kind of illegal fishing in our waters.”
On Thursday Oceana will celebrate the one year anniversary of the People’s Referendum. The movement was quashed when the government rejected many of the signatures of persons who voted on the issue of offshore drilling. Matura-Shepherd asks that the public wears blue or green, the color of the ocean on Thursday. Oceana wants the government to add the offshore drilling question to the October sixth Referendum.