Environmental Threats
and Challenges


cleaning fishFish are the major source of income and protein for many local people.

However fishing, like all forms of human activity, is not without its environmental impact. PCSD does not want to restrict people’s access to this very valuable and nutritious food source, nor to interrupt the commercial processes which bring employment to many.

Rather, PCSD seeks to focus on those practices which have a significant effect on fishing as a whole.

Easily the most serious is uncontrolled gill netting.

Here in Belize, gill netting is poorly controlled.  A great deal of netting is carried out by people without valid licenses or from surrounding countries.

illegal gill nettingNets are left unattended for hours, sometimes days, with an inevitable toll on birds, dolphins, shark, turtles and even manatees.  Very often the people who use gill nets illegally go a stage further and put them in illegal places such as river estuaries, creek mouths and closer than 1/2 mile from human settlements.  

Nets often break away from their anchors and drift along the sea-bottom causing even more damage, and snaring yet more fish, doomed to die, wasted.

The wastage from gill nets is high because once caught, the fish soon die, and in the warm shallow water, decomposition starts straight away. Such fish when landed is not fit for human consumption, so unscrupulous netsmen fillet the fish, and sometimes salt them, to disguise the fact that the meat is “off”

PCSD advocates the complete banning of gill nets in Belize.

Overfishing is a constant threat to any coastline, and Belize is no exception. Generally speaking our commercial fishing is mainly of a “cottage industry” nature, being undertaking by individual fishermen in their own boats. 

lobster caught at the Placencia cayesHowever our two main fish products are lobster and conch, the former being a major export item.

Both species are in decline mainly through overfishing and poaching inside protected areas and through poaching for export to our neighbouring countries. 

Both species are subject to closed seasons to allow breeding and some population regeneration to occur.  Sadly, these closed seasons are not always respected.

Apart from Belize-based problems, we also have to contend with poaching, sometimes on a large scale, by fishermen notably from Honduras and Guatemala.  One only has to look at the poor state of their own coastal fisheries, caused by a combination of overfishing and extensive gill netting, to see why they come into Belizean waters. This applies especially to lobster and conch but also finned fish as well – especially sharks.

Unfortunately, non-Belizean fishermen seem to be easily able to obtain resident commercial fishing licenses from the Belize government, and Belizean fishermen are working hard to stop this practice, particularly in the Punta Gorda area which is literally next-door to both Honduras and Guatemala. 

Meetings are now being held with local communities to solicit their views on extending the limits of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve, which would eliminate many of the non-Belizean commercial fishing problems in the Punta Gorda area. 

But, the Guatemalan and Honduran fishermen often come as far north as the Placencia area, which lacks any enforcement to stop this illegal fishing, particularly with gill nets.

Again PCSD encourages the NGOs and the Belize government to monitor all forms of fishing and ensure that the rules are followed.  There have been some notable successes in this field, and some evidence that patrolling the fisheries has paid dividends.  We also support the harmonization of closed seasons with our neighbor countries, which occurred in January 2010 with respect to the closed season for lobster from 15 February to 15 June.  The Belize government has also promised to stop issuing commercial fishing licenses to non-resident Belizeans by requiring all persons applying for commercial fishing licenses to present evidence of residency along with their commercial fishing license applications.

shrimp trawlerShrimp trawling has long been an issue in the Placencia area where we have have two shrimp trawlers still in operation.  This PCSD cannot support.  

The by-catch from shrimp trawling is incredibly wasteful and damaging to the resources of the sea.

Hundreds of tons of immature fish, crustaceans, and inedible items are thrown back into the sea – dead - from these trawlers who have no use for them.

Approximately 11 pounds of by-catch is thrown away for every 1 pound of shrimp harvested by trawlers!

We have implored the national government to ban the shrimp trawlers, owned by the Northern Fishermen's Cooperative.  The Northern Fishermen's Coop has recently publicly stated that they intend to retire the boats because shrimp trawling is no longer profitable.

Update:  the Belize government announced the week of 6 December 2010 that bottom trawling (including shrimp trawling) has been completely banned in Belize!  We are attempting to obtain a copy of the Statutory Instrument that created the ban so that we can provide more details.

Jamaican fishing boats arrived unannounced in Placencia and Punta Gorda

Two new threats to the Belize fishery have recently emerged -- both from Jamaica - fish cages or pots as they are known in the Caribbean (fish traps in the first world) and foreign fishing companies from countries such as Jamaica where the fish population has been decimated due to unsustainable fishing practices seeking to exploit Belize's still viable fishery. 

People in Placencia and Punta Gorda woke up on the morning of 5 December 2009 to find Jamaican fishing boats moored just off shore - the two largest boats - one in Placencia and one in PG - were loaded with fish traps.  (The boat off Placencia is shown above.)

Cage fishing destroyed the Jamaican fishing -- and now Jamaicans wanted to bring cages - and Jamaican fishermen to Belize! 

A strong public outcry emerged, first from the fishing community throughout Belize, and then from the general population of Belize.  A petition was circulated, signed by over 1400 people, asking the government to completely remove the right for government to grant the right to fish in Belize waters to foreign owned or controlled entities.  The response of the government has not yet been forthcoming.

(For more information on this issue, see the 21 February edition of Roots and Reef.)

The decline in our native shark population has almost certainly been the result of overfishing and the barbaric practice of cutting the fins off live sharks before throwing them back to die a horrible death.  Despite the strong market for shark fins for soup from the Far East, PCSD deplores this and seeks to end it in Belizean waters, applauding the lead of US Fisheries Authorities in this regard.

Sport fishing attracts keen anglers from around the world to Belize in search of its legendary permit.

This most elusive fish is considered by fly anglers as the blue ribbon fish, and we have huge shoals of them here in Belize, mostly on the offshore flats, so vulnerable to environmental damage.  

flats fishingPCSD is very active in the campaign for the protection of our offshore flats.

Bonefish and tarpon too are here in large numbers and it is this trio that gives Belize its pre-eminent position in world sport fishing. PCSD supports catch and release of all species not just the three sportfish permit, bonefish and tarpon now protected by law.

Other fish such as the Nassau Grouper is also present, but due to overfishing is in decline.  PCSD has welcomed the initiatives from the Fisheries Department, supported by NGOs to study and monitor this major food fish.  Studies are ongoing and the groupers of Belize now have some restricted areas to breed in peace.  Fishing for Nassau grouper is now prohibited from December through March.

Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development

General Delivery
Placencia, Belize