Local tour guides caught fishing inside the Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Just after celebrating their 25th year of existence, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve (HCMR) was the target of illegal fishing. The reserve, which is one of the most popular snorkeling sites on the island - and fast becoming increasingly popular for divers - is credited to bringing much needed income into the Belize Economy; and owed to its protected status, is home to  a wide variety of Marine life.

According to Miguel Alamilla, Manager of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, five individuals were caught illegally spear fishing at the Reserve on Tuesday night, July 28th.  After various reports of illegal fishing in the area, the team of rangers and volunteers left to the reserve around 11PM. Alamilla stated, “We had received several reports of illegal fishing happening around that time and before we got to the marine reserve we saw lights out there. Somebody was flashing lights and we knew they were inside the protected area so we proceeded to check. Since it was night we had to be very cautious.

According to Alamilla as they made their way to the northern boundaries of the Reserve, the boat moved further north, trying to make its way out of the reserve. Alamilla and the team from Hol Chan caught up with the vessel carrying the name, ‘Natural Mystic’ out of San Pedro. Onboard was boat captain, Michel Kuhn. Kuhn initially denied fishing in the area, however after being explained the options available to him, as he was suspected of fishing in the protected area, he quickly caved and consequently ousted his accomplices. In the water, spearing were Roan Gonzalez, licensed tour guide; Guillermo Valdez, licensed tour guide; Melvin Montesino and a 13 year old minor.  All individuals were detained for the night by Fisheries via HCMR rangers and charged by the Belize Fisheries Department though the Hol Chan Marine Office on Wednesday, July 31st. All pleaded not guilty, and are now out on bail until their scheduled court date on Tuesday August 14th. If convicted, the individuals run the risk of facing a maximum charge of $1,000 or six months imprisonment, or both.

Alamilla is saddened by the entire situation, “What is really disappointing and very surprising is “who” were caught. Two of these guys are licensed tour guides, working in the Tourism Industry here on the island. What’s surprising to me is that Tour Guides are doing it. The community is dependent on the reef and the Marine Reserves for tourism. Those fish are worth more alive than dead. In reality, it’s very surprising that tour guides are engaged in this illegal fishing activity.

Hol Chan plans on stepping up their monitoring and encourages individuals to report illegal fishing in a timely manner that the rangers can be more effective in protecting the area. As to what will happen to the guides’ license, president of the San Pedro Tourist Guide Association Phillip “Billy” Leslie informed The San Pedro Sun that the association has written a letter recommending the suspension of both men’s Tour Guide License for a period not less than five years, to the Tour Guide Committee. The Tour Guide Committee is formed under the Belize Tourism Board and is tasked with the assurance of good quality Tour Guides. For the time being, the individuals are working as Tour Guides on the island. According to Leslie, the committee is the only body that can make the decision as to whether these individuals’ licenses will be revoked. At the meeting, both Gonzalez and Valdez will receive the opportunity to plead their case. To report illegal fishing, please call the Hol Chan Marine Office at 226-2247.

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