One day in December, the residents of the seaside village of Punta Gorda in Belize looked out to the horizon and saw something unexpected: Jamaican fishing boats. They had arrived, unannounced and without permits, to fish in Belize’s diverse waters.
Many of Punta Gorda’s local fishermen still work the shallow waters inside the Belize Barrier Reef from individual canoes using age-old methods to provide lobster, shellfish and reef fish for Belizeans, as well as a small but thriving export business. The Jamaican boats, with more sophisticated commercial gear, offered no such promise for the local economy or the continued sustainability of Belize’s fisheries.
A few unpermitted Jamaican fishing boats may seem like a local hurly-burly, and after an uproar the boats were turned away by Belizean authorities. But Oceana has discovered that the fight to protect Belize’s waters from exploitation has just begun.
Other countries with larger fleets, namely Chinese Taipei and Spain – Europe’s largest and most aggressive fishing nation – have already approached the government of Belize about moving into the deep waters beyond the Belize Barrier Reef.