Features / General

Away with gill net fishing

By Judge Kenneth Gail

The outlawing of gill nets can result in the addition of hundreds of millions of dollars into Belize’s economy, increasing employment in the fisheries industry.
The movememt to outlaw gill nets had its inception in 2004. It had an exceptionally good start and progressed until it was closed down as a result of the effect of government corruption.

In April 22, 2004 a fisheries forum took place in Monkey River with the Minister of Fisheries, Servula Baeza present, together with the fishermen from Punta Negra , Placencia and Monkey River. The meeting was recorded.
It was brought out at the meeting that 95 percent of all gill net fishing was done by fishermen from Guatemala. The fishermen at the meeting supported outlawing of all gill nets and stated that the only reason they fished with gill nets was because Guatemalans were allowed to do so. They also explained how outlawing gill nets would increase employment in the fishing industry.

Minister Servulo Baeza stated that if the majority supported the outlawing of gill nets that he would move for the Legislature to have gill nets outlawed. Before the motion could be made, Servulo Baeza was removed from his office as Minister of Fisheries.
The motion would not be allowed because Guatemalan fishermen are allowed to vote in Belize’s national elections. Consequently the motion to outlaw gill nets would not be allowed, since it would prevent Guatemalan fishermen from being present to vote in Belizean elections.

If the efforts to ban the use of gill nets had been successful, Belize would now be a thriving country with a tax base large enough to provide free education and many other benefits. At that time, ten years ago, Belize was a paradise for sports fishermen, who were always enthusiastic about coming to fish in Belize.
Gill nets are referred to as the “Walls of Death, because all marine life that comes in contact with these nets die. These includes Manantees and turtles, and other protected species of marine life. The effect of gill net fishing is so devastating that gill nets have been outlawed in the Gulf Coast States of Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and many other jurisdictions.
The outlawing of gill nets in Texas waters has brought back nearly extinct species of fish. As a result fishing has increased to where Texas now boasts of a billion-dollar recreational fishing industry.

Gill net fishing has decimated Belize’s fish stocks and has come close to destroying Belize’s recreational fishing industry. If gill nets were immediately outlawed in Belize, Belize could in a relatively short time, once more own a popular recreational fishing industry. But if the momentum to get rid of gill nets is delayed, further destrution of Belize’s fish stocks will make it difficult to develop a profitable sport fishing industry.
Oceana needs your help as both the government generally and the Fisheries Department have supported the Guatemalans in their gill net activity in Belizean waters.

Years back, around 2007, during an attempt to stop the Guatremala gill net fishing it was brought to the Belize Government’s attention that fishing licenses could only be issued to Belizean citizens. The Government immediately changed the law to where licenses could be issued to residents. Soon the Guatemalan gill netters who live in Guatemala, were obtaining fishing licenses, using false addresses such as vacant lots as their place of residence in Belize.

A number of years back, when efforts were being made to outlaw gill nets in Belize the Fisheries Department came out publicly against it. . It published nationwide the false proposition that the outlawing of gill nets would result in unemployment in the fisheries industry, when the contrary is true. It is the gill net fishing that has caused unemployment in the industry.

Recently some loyal Belizeans who care for the country, came across a great number of gill nets set which had been set in protected waters. They pulled up the nets and turned them over to the Fisheries Department. To their consternation the Fisheries Department promptly returned the offending gill nets to the Guatemalans.
Belizeans must stand together to preserve their fishing heritage and gain the millions of dollars which could be ours if we work to develop recreational fishing to its true potential. We don’t have to look for a new industry! We have one in the palm of our hand, if only we would learn how to develop it.

Let us assist Oceana to its endeavour to have gill nets outlawed. Doing so will be a great service to Belize and will help generations to come, by preserving Belize’s greatest natural asset, her abundant marine life, and using it to create prosperity for Belize.

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