As part of ongoing advocacy efforts to promote the use of sustainable fishing gear in Belize’s marine environment, Oceana launched a social media component in the ARE WE DROWNING OUR FUTURE? | #stopthenets campaign. The photographs feature Belizean social media personalities and are designed to highlight the indiscriminate nature of gillnetting at sea. Gillnets compromise the health of commercial fish stocks, the abundance of protected and/or endangered species and the economic benefits of both commercial and recreational fisheries. The gear also threatens the overall health of the reef system, which is a major source of employment, enjoyment and food for the people of Belize.
The photo shoot took place in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. Once a sleepy fishing village, Ambergris Caye is Belize’s number one tourism destination and a hotspot for recreational fishing. The photos were taken by Oceana’s Alex Ellis and feature models Joyjah Estrada and Emaun Hyde entangled in a gillnet; in the same way many charismatic, protected and economically important species are trapped in this destructive gear.
"The photoshoot was fun but challenging. You could see how easy it would be to become entangled in a gillnet. It’s sad to think that things like that are happening to our marine life, and to creatures that are far more valuable alive than dead." said Joyjah Estrada. "Being a part of efforts to highlight why these nets are not a good idea was a labour of love for me." That’s a sentiment echoed by Emaun Hyde. "We really don’t realize how lucky we are to live in Belize because of just how blessed Belize is. But it won’t always be that way if don’t take action today to help safeguard our resources for own benefits and gains tomorrow", said Emaun Hyde.
This social media component complements ‘Net Loss: Are We Drowning our Future?’, a documentary produced by Oceana. The video features fishermen from across Belize discussing the empty reality that looms ahead if we don’t take proactive steps towards sustainability. According to the Belize Fisheries Department, 169 Belizeans are licensed to use a gillnet. The bulk of gillnets being used in local waters belong to unlicensed foreign fishermen using unregulated gear. A proposal to announce a phase out of the gear would give those 169 Belizean fishermen two years to transition to more sustainable gear. The proposal is being supported by Oceana as well as a number of individuals and organizations from the fishing, tourism and business sectors.
"We can work together to ensure Belizeans will be able to fish for generations to come," says Oceana’s Vice President, Janelle Chanona. "By stopping the use of gillnets, Belize would take a meaningful step in safeguarding the more than 15,000 Belizeans that depend on a viable fishing sector, as well as the more than a hundred million dollars derived from commercial and recreational fisheries. In 2016, as Belize works towards sustainability and good governance, we can, and should, stop the nets."