Fishermen seek help after Hurricane Earl

Friday, October 14th, 2016

The long recovery following Hurricane Earl is just beginning for fishermen across Belize. Earl’s impact resulted in soaring losses for fishermen, especially those of Caye Caulker Village. As one of the largest sources of income for the country, fishermen feel that the Government of Belize (GOB) should offer them financial assistance, which up to date, they have not received.

Caye Caulker Fishermen

Caye Caulker Fishermen

According to local fishermen from both Caye Caulker and San Pedro, fishing grounds for lobster, fish and conch were severely damaged by the forces of the storm. In addition, Caye Caulker fishermen in particularly suffered excessive losses in fishing equipment. “Fishermen in Caye Caulker are feeling the strain from the hurricane’s impact. We are talking about maybe half a million dollars in damages to lobster traps. Some fishermen had 500 traps, some had 400 traps and the smallest fishermen had about 100 traps, valued at about $75 each trap, but they lost it all in the storm,” explained Portilio Guzman on the extent of the loss of equipment in Caye Caulker.
With fishermen claiming that they hadn’t seen this level of damage to the fishing industry in 16 years when Hurricane Keith hit Belize, they are unsure of their next step. “Many coral patches are broken. The caves outside of the barrier reef where you usually find lobsters are no longer there. It’s not only about the traps that were destroyed, but the fishing grounds as well. We need some kind of assistance,” said representative of the Caye Caulker Managed Access Program, Eluterio Lopez.
Now that the production of seafood in the country has decreased, island restaurants are also being impacted. “The fishermen supply the restaurant with seafood for tourists. But right now it is not like that. A lot of these fishermen that got affected haven’t been able to catch what they normally would. Imagine somebody that had six hundred lobster traps, and you only ended up with a hundred after the hurricane? It’s really hurting us,” said another fisherman of Caye Caulker, Charles Rubio Jr.
Alicia Eck, Manager of the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, understands the loss of the fishermen, but states that the department currently does not have finances to assist their requests. “Yes, they are asking for help, but everybody knows the situation of the government right now. I know that these fishermen invested a lot in these traps and shades since the lobster season opened back in June. Some of them are giving us large numbers, and they cannot show documentation to verify their losses. We have done some interviews with them to figure out how much they have lost, and at the time we were doing it, most of them had not done an assessment. They were reaching out to try and get funding, but our department does not have supplementary funds to distribute to them as recovery funds. However, if the government does decide to give out funds, they might do it through the Co-operative Department,” said Eck.
She also stated that the fishermen are hesitant to take out a loan, and would prefer government assistance to help them recover their losses. In the meantime, Caye Caulker Marine Reserve has forwarded their request to the main office, and are awaiting a response.
As for here in San Pedro, fishermen are making due with the situation, says Alfredo Rubio of the San Pedro Managed Access Program. “It’s difficult to tell the losses of fishermen here in San Pedro since the Managed Access program has little participation, but we are trying to get organized and bring all fishermen together. The biggest problem here in San Pedro was the docks and piers. While some have applied to rebuild their docks, other have carried out their fishing endeavors without one,” said Rubio.
The San Pedro Sun was unable to get a comment from the Belize Fisheries Department on the situation affecting the industry.

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