Since 2009, Oceana has been promoting the importance of protecting Belize’s natural resources, encouraging healthy fisheries and highlighting the impact of destructive fishing gear in Belize. Our long-term vision for the Belize Barrier Reef is a thriving ecosystem, capable of producing abundant, healthy marine resources that support a vibrant and sustainable local economy for Belizeans.
In December 2010, the Belizean government announced a ban on all forms of trawling in the country's waters. Oceana in Belize played a crucial role in the decision, collaborating with Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s administration to negotiate the buy-out of the two shrimp trawlers.
Trawls are one of the most destructive forms of fishing gear in the world. Shrimp trawls are notorious for the amount of bycatch, or untargeted catch, they haul in. Thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and untargeted fish are caught in shrimp trawlers around the world every year. Meanwhile, bottom trawlers’ weighted nets effectively clear-cut the ocean floor with every pass, destroying sensitive corals and anything else in their way.
With this ban, which went into effect December 31st, 2010, Belize became one of the first countries in the world to institute a complete and permanent ban on trawling in all its waters.
Oceana is also working to phase out gillnet use in Belize.
Gillnets are notorious for high levels of bycatch, often trapping and killing marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks and other ecologically and economically important fish. In Belize, there is evidence of the gear catching, entangling and killing protected species like bonefish, tarpon, permit, manatees and endangered species such as scalloped hammerheads. Gillnets are already credited with the regional extinction of sawfish.
In addition to removing an increasingly large number of fish from the ocean, gillnetting can be even more destructive when they become lost or forgotten in the water because they continue to catch animals, a phenomenon known as “ghost fishing”. Without anyone profiting from the catches, they are affecting already depleted commercial fish stocks. Caught fish die and in turn attract scavengers which will get caught in that same net, thus creating a vicious cycle of death.
Moreover, when caught on a reef, nets not only catch fish, turtles, crustaceans, birds or marine mammals, they also destroy hard and soft corals, wiping out complete ecosystems while tossing around in the current. Aside from being bad for the environment, gill nets are bad for people.
Based on economics, science, regional examples and stakeholder engagement, Oceana proposes a phase out of gillnets over two years in order to protect endangered species and livelihoods in tourism and fishing. During the phase out period, Oceana is committed to support Belize Fisheries Department in advancing the transition of the less than 200 licensed Belizean gillnet fishermen to alternative economic activities and fishing gears, and in reducing the impact of illegal fishing on Belizean fishermen.
By stopping the use of gillnets, Belize would take a great step to protect the traditions and livelihoods of thousands of fishers, and its source of affordable, nutritious fish for generations to come.