The reef and ecosystem is very important for the livelihood of all San Pedranos. We all depend on our beautiful reef and all its marine life since tourists pay thousands of dollars to come and swim and fish in our pristine waters.
Sport fishing has become very popular here on the island and Belize; there are three very popular salt water game fish in our waters, the tarpon, bonefish and permit. In January 2009 Belize lawmakers unanimously passed one of the most comprehensive catch and release fishing legislations in the world. The legislation stated that bonefish, permit and tarpon may not be possessed by any person or establishment in Belize, except in the act of catch and release.
And on September 26, 2009, with the passage of the new Sport Fishing regulations into law, the Coastal Zone Management Authority (CZMA) was given the mandate to issue Sport Fishing licenses and collect Sport Fishing license fees. The new CZMA and new Fisheries legislation that was also signed has brought about the protection of the three main sport fishing species: Bonefish, Tarpon and Permit.
After three years it seems that not everybody is respecting such law of preserving this main sport fishing species. On Sunday, January 22, 2012, local tour guides from San Pedro took pictures of a boat in the Los Salones Area named ACITA.C with dead bonefish and permit in its possession.
This illegal act has caused quite a stir on the island since many tour guides have been paying their license fees in order to carry out their sport fishing activities of which the money is to be used for the protection of these species. Many are crying out that the job of protecting these game fish is not being fully carried out.
Letters with pictures of the incident were forwarded to the office of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Fisheries Department and Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI). In response to the email Mr. Miguel Alamilla of Hol Chan Marine Reserve stated that Los Salones is not in the route of the protected areas they work on and getting there requires time, fuel and human resource which they lack.
Mr. Alamilla also suggested that the CZMAI can start by investing some of the funds they have collected from the licensing program into a comprehensive educational campaign to these fishermen. Although this will not solve the problem entirely but Mr. Alamilla believes it's a good start and is committed to help in the educational program.
As for the CZMAI, they stated that they would investigate the matters promptly including determining whether any of the fish were sold in public places and rigorously monitoring of the area. The Fisheries Department would like to bring charges against the owner of the boat - but all they have is a picture and a registration number.
Illegal fishing of the Tarpon, Bonefish or Permit attracts a fine of 5,000 dollars. The species was protected because it is an important tourist attraction and their population numbers were low. It is extremely important to protect our marine life and delicate coral eco-systems. Protecting these fish will help Belize retain its reputation as one of the world's most sought-after fly fishing destinations, and ensure further preservation of our rich natural resources.
The "Catch and Release" legislation is a testament to Belize's longstanding dedication to the protection of the country's wild and marine life. Over 40% of the country's natural resources have been dedicated to preservation efforts. Let us all help in protecting our natural resources and report any illegal activity to the proper authorities.