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Feb 7, 2019

Monkey River Fishermen Say No to Gillnets

The topic of gillnets is one that we have covered extensively on the news. As you know, the fishing gear has sharply divided sectors of the fishing industry and conservation groups. Gillnets are described as indiscriminate and destructive because it traps just about every species in its path. The Ministry of Fisheries has gone as far as to create a task force to reduce the harmful impacts of gillnets, but proponents for a ban of the gear are not satisfied with the regulations and have repeatedly called for a complete ban.  One of the N.G.O. groups that want a total ban of gillnets is the Belize Federation of Fisheries. They took members of the media to fishing communities in southern Belize to get first-hand account of the impact of gillnet on traditional fishing villages. In Monkey River most of the fisherfolk have agreed not to use the gear because they say they have seen the pressures it has placed on the fisheries resources. Reporter Andrea Polanco tells us more in the following story.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Monkey River is small village of about two hundred and fifty residents in Toledo. Most of these villagers make their living by fishing or tourism activities. But life has been changing in this southern community – fishermen are more concerned than ever about their livelihoods. There are about thirty registered fishers in Monkey River – at one time these men would live comfortably off the bounty of the sea. But now – they say that has changed drastically.


Alexander Garbutt

Alexander Garbutt, Fisherman

“If I had depended on that I would be a dead man already if it was that I was depending on. It is extinct, a lot of these fish. Snooks – we used to come out here – me and a lot of others used to come out here paddling in a dug and we would ketch any amount of fish.  For about three four days right now I have been out here and I haven’t catch a fish. I think I ketch one jack.”


Victor Cuevas, Fisherman

“Some days we go and set seventy traps and we catch up to forty lobsters. That is a good day.  And some days we go out there and ketch maybe up to ten lobsters. But why? Gillnet again!”


Garbutt and Cuevas have been fishing for more than fifty years. They say that the threat to their livelihood is the gillnet. These nets – according to the fishers – have almost wiped out what was once a lucrative source of income. But the problem they say didn’t happen overnight.  Victor Cuevas was one of the first fishers to use gillnets way back in the eighties in Monkey River. He used it to fish for about seven years then he quit.


Victor Cuevas

Victor Cuevas

“I used to use gillnets but way back in the eighties. But we have seen the damage that the gillnets do and automatically we had to quit it. We used to set the gillnets mostly those times for lobster – and the amount of turtle we ketch. We used to have an area back of the yard and sometimes it used to be up to fifteen turtle that just waste because they get drowned in the net. And then the net automatically start to clean the bottom. So, maybe after a period of five to ten years, there won’t be anything left. So, we had to quit before the ten years up so that we could have a sustainable fishing. Everything kinda decline. Every species out there gone as far as I see. The only thing weh come back a lot more dah turtles.”


Daniel Castellanos Junior has been fishing since he was six or seven years old. He doesn’t quite have the fifty years of fishing under his belt – but he, like Cuevas, started using gillnets when he was just a boy. He said he had to make a hard decision to switch from gillnets to more sustainable means of fishing.


Daniel Castellanos Jr.

Daniel Castellanos Jr., Fisherman

“When we start with my dad, gillnet fishing, we had abundance. We had a lot of fish. We had mackerel; we had shark, we had everything were getting in huge number. Eventually I stopped fishing using gillnet. My dad still uses gillnet but I stopped. One of the reasons I stopped is because I saw the product going down. I also do a little bit of tourism and more of lobster and conch fishing, but the fin fish and shark fishing is really going downhill due to the overfishing of gillnets.”


Castellanos’ father is one of the three fishermen to still use gillnets to fish.  The senior Castellanos believes there are no solid alternative gears. While he recognizes the impact of gillnets on the fishery resources, he doesn’t believe it is the only thing that is depleting fish stocks.  He believes gillnets can be used by seasons.


Daniel Castellanos Sr.

Daniel Castellanos Sr., Fisherman

“Some of us really don’t have no other alternative other than to fish with our gillnets. I really know that the amount of gillnets is affecting us somehow.  Mek we have a season for it and the time that we should have the season is the time that all those guys come into Belize and fish. I think it would be more sustainable like that because only the real Belizeans will fish at that time because we have market for our fish.”


Although only a handful of Belizeans are using gillnets to fish in Monkey River – the fishermen in the village say that the waters around them are fair grounds to Guatemalans – who use gillnets almost exclusively to fish.


Daniel Castellanos Jr.

“We have more and more people coming in and doing gillnets and actually from Guatemala. A lot of these guys at first didn’t have license to fish but now all of them coming actually have a valid license to fish with gillnets and that becomes a big problem.”


Monkey River fishermen saythere is only one thing they want to see happen to the destructive fishing gear.


Eloy Cuevas

Eloy Cuevas, Fisherman

“We would want to see a full ban on gillnet. We don’t want enforcement because the enforcement is so corrupt and that wouldn’t help the deal any at all.”


Victor Cuevas

“I support that banning of gillnets one hundred and ten percent.”


Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


In a subsequent newscast we will tell you what fisherfolk in Seine Bight and Placencia are saying about gillnets.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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