Images of a large shark killing went viral on Belize’s social media scene all day yesterday, Monday, February 22, 2016. Mar Alliance, a non-government organization that monitors threatened marine wildlife, posted several disturbing images of a large kill of sharks in and near the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye at Lighthouse Reef Atoll. The group’s cry for the protection of these endangered and critically important marine creatures did not fall of deaf years as the support from Belizeans was evident in all comments condemning the brutal act.
“The Jewels of Belize’s marine heritage and tourism have been hit hard by several unlicensed fishers using the unsustainable fishing gears nets and long lines,” stated a release by Mar Alliance. “These pictures represent a portion of a single day’s fishing with nets and long lines and include at least 32 sharks representing 3 species including the endangered great hammerhead and pregnant Caribbean reef sharks (and sources counted at least 50 sharks landed in the short space of time they were at the sites). The sharks were landed at Sandbore Caye and Hat Caye at Lighthouse.”
Four Caribbean reef sharks of size to be mature (two appear pregnant) and two smaller sharks that appear to be Caribbean sharpnose sharks landed at Sandbore Caye, northern Lighthouse Reef Atoll
At least 24 Caribbean reef sharks killed including one large (and we were informed pregnant) female being skinned
Discarded shark parts at Lighthouse Reef’s Hat Caye
Mar Alliance indicates that little to none shark meat is consumed in Belize (it’s full of neurotoxic mercury) as it’s traditionally exported to Guatemala. The Hammerheads (meat and or fins) cannot be legally exported across national boundaries without a specific export license that is ultimately approved by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
This international convention, to which Belize is a signatory, notes that countries wanting to export listed species (such as the hammerheads and even conch – both listed under the Appendix II) must prove internationally, through a process called a non-detriment finding prepared with Belize’s independent Scientific Authority, that the fishery for the listed species is sustainable. However, fisheries for large long-lived, late maturing and low production sharks including hammerheads and Caribbean reef sharks are recognized worldwide as UNsustainable. This means they should NOT be fished.
As Mar Alliance stepped out with these images to call on Belize’s Government by petitioning Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development, Hon. Gaspar Vega to support equitable and sustainable fishing in Belize, Oceana Belize also joined the support by renewing the call to ban gill net and long line fishing in Belize.
According to Janelle Chanona, Oceana Vice President, Belizean fishermen and marine conservationists have been advocating for the banning of gill nets as a means of fishing since 1997. It has been their concerns that sharks are needed to keep a balance in the ocean, but are falling victim to the usage of gill nets.
“The important thing to remember is that shark fishing is LEGAL,” stated Janelle Chanona when asked if the boat owners can be identified. “Shark fishing licenses are issued by the Belize Fisheries Department. This one incident has highlighted how many sharks are being caught using gillnets. If the nets were banned, that would ensure a level of fairness to fishing. Belizean fishers Oceana Belize have spoken to are saying that in large part, this gear is not being used by Belizean fishers. We’ve requested a list of licensed gillnet users but that information has not been shared. The question remains: why is such data being withheld? Why are users of our resources secret? Everyone has a right to know who is doing what at sea. What happens out there impacts all of us.”
– photo by Hol Chan
Belizean fishermen have been asking for a ban on gillnets for almost two decades. The nets remain legal. In this documentary, fishermen ask for your help in keeping fishing a viable livelihood in Belize
According to Mar Alliance, the sharks in the pictures were captured by a handful of fishers apparently working under only two shark fishing licenses and targeting Belize’s Lighthouse Reef Atoll. These sharks were a mainstay of dive and snorkel tourism at the atoll and helped to support many local businesses that rely on tourism for their income. These dead sharks represented millions of dollars in lost revenue, not only to Belize’s tourism sector and the many families and politicians they support, but also to coral reef ecosystem resilience, as these animals play a critical role in maintaining reef health.
– photos by Mar Alliance
Mar Alliance indicates that live sharks and rays generate far more income to a country that shark fisheries.These swimming “Golden Geese” of the sea generate a continuous and often rising stream of revenue as a destination becomes known for hosting expanding populations of sharks. An example from our region is the Bahamas where shark tourism was recently valued at over US$70 million annually and benefits countless families and businesses.
Considering the many costs and benefits to Belize, shark fishing no longer makes any economic sense for Belize, stated Mar Alliance. The inability of fishers to selectively target only the small rapidly reproducing shark species (and only if adequately monitored and enforced) along with the lack of enforcement means that there is no hope for fostering a sustainable shark fishery. If you add to this the small economic value gained by a handful of shark fishers compared to the economic importance of sharks to the country’s largest GDP earner (tourism) and the country’s immediate need to shore up both coral reef and fin-fish fisheries resiliency, then it’s clear, there are no more clear rational or economic arguments as to why this fishery is permitted to continue.
“We are all stakeholders of sustainable fisheries and by extension of shark and rays … especially the tourism sector that earns millions and generates countless jobs from catch and release fly-fishing and other recreational fishing as well as snorkelling and diving with live sharks and rays. It’s time to be heard: request a voice in decision-making regarding sustainable fisheries and sharks and rays (a key avenue is representation in the National Shark Advisory Committee run by the Fisheries Department). To the public, decision-makers, politicians, managers, fin-fish and invertebrate fishers, teachers and students: STAND UP FOR YOUR SHARKS AND RAYS. Whether you know it or not, they have brought you so much and will continue to support you if you protect them.”
Mar Alliance and Oceana Belize both urge everyone to contact Minister of Natural Resources Hon. Gaspar Vega and let him know that they support sustainable fishing in Belize and are asking the public to sign an online petition at the following link:
Two juvenile Caribbean reef sharks finned and awaiting filleting
Shark fins drying in the sun
The beheaded trunk of a large Lighthouse Reef Atoll shark prepped for fillet and transport. A large mature male caribbean reef can be seen behind the fisher in yellow
Caribbean reef sharks landed at Sandbore Caye, northern Lighthouse Reef Atoll