7 News Belize

Why The Mass Fishing Of Sharks?
posted (February 22, 2016)
Sharks- the apex predators of the sea- are being hunted in Belizean waters. Yesterday Mar Alliance, a non-governmental advocacy organization, posted several pictures on social media depicting a number of sharks being harvested for their meat. The practice is not illegal in the country put the topic always tends to strike a sensitive nerve- especially when at such large scale. The post alleged that the pictures represented at least 32 sharks captured in areas near the Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye sometime last week.

Among the carcasses were 3 shark species, including the endangered Hammerhead shark and several pregnant female Caribbean Reef Sharks. But while it is legal to fish for sharks in Belize, Mar Alliance claimed that only two of the group of men fishing for sharks were licensed.

The matter also brings into sharper focus an issue that Oceana Belize has been championing for a number of years. That is the issue of Gill Nets- the unbiased fishing trap that ensnares everything in its path. These 30 add sharks it is believed were captured with the use of these deadly nets. Today we spoke to Oceana Vice President Jannelle Chanona on the matter of gill nets and the sensitive topic of shark fishing.

Janelle Chanona, Vice President - Oceana Belize
"What's happening here in this situation regarding the sharks is that these nets are being used to harvest all types of sharks; hammerheads, Caribbean Reef sharps - whatever sharks you can think about that's swimming around in Belize. And its creating the photos broadcast today by Mar Alliance which is a shark conservation organization s depicting. Because these nets are being allowed, these sharks have been captured in mass and as apex predators, as keystone species, you realize that if we continue to lose sharks at this rate, that can throw the whole ecosystem into vulnerable imbalance."

Emanuel Pech
"Why does it become such a shocker when it is posted on Facebook if these licenses are being handed out?"

Janelle Chanona, Vice President - Oceana Belize
"Shark fishing as I said, that's legal. The Fisheries Department, the government have determined that shark fishing should be allowed. The controversy comes up when people actually see that because gillnets are being used to harvest these sharks in these amounts and they see sort of the layout of carcasses on the beach, then they have an idea wow if this is one fishing camp, one capture and this is happening across the country, then they begin to get the size of the problem. We are in Lenten season. The demand for seafood related products too Lenten season cultures, then demand drives up price and this is the time of year where we see these sorts of mass captures and really, it hits home as how big this problem is."

While sharks are not generally consumed in Belize, Guatemalan and other neighboring countries pay a handsome dollar for shark meat and fins. We also note that Nurse Sharks and Whale Sharks are the only protected shark species in Belize. However fishing for hammerheads as well as Caribbean reef sharks is international recognized as an unsustainable practice due to their late maturing and slow reproduction rates.

Mar Alliance in response to this recent catch of sharks, which they say occurred sometime last week, has started an online petition calling on Government authorities responsible for fisheries to support equitable and sustainable fishing in Belize and to ban the use of gillnets and longlines. We attempted to get a comment from the Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade on the matter but we were told that she cannot comment until properly briefed of the situation. We were however promised an interview later this week.

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7 News Belize