By Benjamin Flowers
Shocked at the evidence of sharks being slaughtered through gill-net fishing, Mar Alliance, a shark conservation non-governmental organization based on Ambergris Caye, has petitioned the government of Belize to ban the use of gill nets.
The images showed fishermen with more than thirty sharks of various species, including the endangered Hammerhead shark and pregnant Caribbean reef sharks, laid out on the beach at Sandbore Caye and Hat Caye at Lighthouse Reef , being harvested for the meat.
Mar Alliance is asking Belizeans at home and abroad to sign an online petition to the Minister of Fisheries and Forestry, Gaspar Vega, to ban gill nets because of the negative impact is has on marine life.
“The use of unsustainable and unselective fishing gear such as nets and longlines are disproportionately contributing to tadecline in Belize’s fin fish population and a host of other protected or threatened species including turtles, manatees, recreational fish, sharks and rays.” Mar Alliance said.
Mar Alliance noted that little to no shark meat is consumed in Belize (it’s full of neurotoxic mercury) and this fish is traditionally exported to Guatemala. Mar Alliance also pointed out that Hammerhead meat, and or fins, should not be legally exported across national boundaries without a specific export license that has to be approved by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The petition has already gathered more than 500 signatures and can be found on the alliance’s Facebook page.
Oceana Belize, has been advocating for a ban on gill nets since 2010, added its condemnation of gill nets this week, in support of Mar Alliance.
Oceana vice President, Janelle Chanona, explained that the organization has had numerous consultations with many Belizean fishermen and cooperatives, who all support the banning of gill nets and have been opposed to its use since 1997.
“As keystone species, sharks are used to indicate the health of the ecosystem. If we’re not managing how many sharks are being extracted that promises to put the entire ecosystem into imbalance”. Chanona said
A gill net is a wall of netting that hangs in the water, made typically of nylon. Mesh sizes are designed to allow fish to get only their heads through the netting, but not their bodies. When the fishes’ gills then get caught in the mesh they cannot extricate themselves are die there. Gill nets kill fish and turtle indiscriminately, sting rays and manatees.