Coast Guard confiscate gill net on Lighthouse Reef Atoll
Wednesday, February 25th, 2015
On Saturday, February 21st the Belize Coast Guard, with the assistance of the Belize Audubon Society, confiscated a gill net illegally placed off of Hat Caye in the Lighthouse Reef Atoll within the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The netting caused the death of many fish, including a reef shark and the protected bonefish. The Coast Guard not only removed and confiscated the net, but they also apprehended the fishermen involved in the situation.
While the use of gill nets is not banned in Belize, the Belize Fisheries Department requires all nets, whether used for profit or nonprofit, to be registered before being placed in the water. This policy was enacted on July 1, 2013 to ensure the sustainable management of commercial fisheries, as well as protection of various species of fish. The regulation was set up in accordance with the Statutory Instrument No. 78 of the Belize Fisheries Act.
The Coast Guard was informed on Saturday, February 21st of the whereabouts of the net. Force members stationed at Long Caye were deployed to the scene where the gill net was immediately removed. After further inspection, authorities confirmed that the net was not registered. The gill net had caused the death of close to a hundred fish, including a reef shark and several protected bonefish. The unnamed fishermen face charges of a fine of $500, six months imprisonment, or both, for fishing without a registered net. In addition, they face separate charges for the killing of a protected species.
Mar Alliance released a statement on the damaging effects of gill nets. “Nets kill indiscriminately. Their use will not allow for sustainable fisheries in Belize. Here again is the proof. Bonefish (Albula vulpes) are a protected species in Belize, yet they have been netted in the hundreds if not more, at Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Bonefish, along with tarpon and permit are huge money makers for Belize’s economy in the catch and release fly-fishing industry (over $BZ25 million per a 2008 study). We proposed a ban on nets at Lighthouse Reef Atoll in 2011 onwards to protect a host of vulnerable and endangered species as nets have been used to capture hammerheads, hawksbill turtles and more endangered species that were not necessarily the fishers’ original targets.”
To report sighting of a gill net believed to be illegally placed, contact the Belize Fisheries Department at 223-2623/224-4552/223-2187.
Further information on the legal use of gill nets:
A registered gill net must not exceed 300 meters in open waters or 200 meters in freshwater bodies. The use of gill nets is prohibited along the shorelines of Monkey River or Placencia. Gill nets may not be set within a radius of one mile of a bridge or half a mile from the out-fall of a tributary, and must not be used in the New River Lagoon or its tributaries. Use of gill net is not allowed on Marine Reserves or Protected Areas. All fishermen using gill nets are urged to register their nets to avoid prosecution. A valid boat license and fisherman’s license is also required for registering a gill net. The certificate of registration for gill nets is valid for one year, after which it must be renewed.
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