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Disturbing video footage of a15-foot tiger shark that died after being caught in an abandoned gill net has triggered conservationists and residents to join the support in renewing the call to ban gill net and long line fishing in Belize. The tiger shark is one of two that were discovered this past week.

The San Pedro tour company, Amigos del Mar, came across a 500-foot net that contained the two dead sharks; one of them that was believed to be a pregnant female tiger shark. Amigos del Mar was traveling back to Ambergris Caye from a trip to Lighthouse Reef Atoll. They immediately contacted MarAlliance to report the incident.

MarAlliance indicated that the net had no tag denoting it was not registered, it was longer than regulations require in Belize and also reveals that shark fishing is taking place during the closed shark fishing season, all illegal acts.

“Nets are difficult to enforce and they kill indiscriminately both protected and unprotected species,” stated MarAlliance in their post. “Amigos del Mar guests had had an amazing day where they saw a sperm whale, dolphins, live sharks and many fish...and then they saw this. They were all very upset, with some in tears. And this is the image with which they will leave Belize. The guides said this was the largest tiger they had seen and mentioned how much they wish they could see one alive while diving but until now had never had that opportunity as there are so few tiger sharks seen in Belize.”

“Live sharks are worth so much more to Belize, the marine health and so many Belizean families and businesses through the tourism dollars they bring, than dead sharks that are generally exported as fillet and fins by a handful of fishers”, says MarAlliance. "If we keep nets, we cannot expect to reverse our declining fisheries and fish populations, especially the highly vulnerable sharks and rays.”

The shark fishing season closed on August 1, in accordance with Statutory Instrument No. 78 of 2011. When the shark fishing season closed, the Department of Fisheries had reminded that anyone caught shark fishing between August 1 and October 31, commits an offense under the Fisheries Act, Chapter 210 of the Laws of Belize. The act makes provisions under Section 15 (1) and 15 (2) for both fines and imprisonment, along with additional fines with respect to each fish caught out of season.

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 within the season as licenses are issued by the Belize Fisheries Department. Gill nets need to be registered and licensed also but ff 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 fishermen, but it clearly shows that the illegal practice of fishing with gill nets is still taking place in Belize and that more regulations and surveillance is very much needed to protect marine creatures.

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Dorian Nuñez

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