Last week a majority of fishermen from the village of Crooked Tree, Belize District, were stopped from getting into the waters of the village lagoon, part of the Wildlife Sanctuary, on a scheduled “haul day,” when fisher folks are allowed to catch fish in the lagoon within the wildlife sanctuary for their own consumption as well as for retail. Apparently, they were told that they needed official licenses, which they say is short notice and contrary to a prior agreement that they would be allowed to fish without such licenses. Courtesy of our colleagues at KREM News, we have some of their reactions:
Fisherman 1: This is happening years now. Years in and years out you can haul how you want without a license, because last year I personally called a meeting with the fisheries and Audubon Society and they stated to me, to everyone who was in the meeting, that we don’t need a license, but when they come back here they will give us our license at Crooked Tree so we wouldn’t have to go to Belize City. Yesterday they went to everyone’s house and they said that now we need to have license to go into the water, and that was one day ahead, that isn’t right. They are suppose to give us two weeks. Everyone at Crooked Tree, we abide by the law and they already said we don’t need any license, so why all of a sudden we need license to go into the water?
Reporter: Explain to us what happened out here this morning.
Fisherman 1: When we came, all of us were out here. We had already packed our net, our dory, then the Audubon and the chairman came and told us that we can’t go in the water, they stopped us from going in teh water. One spell, one of the Audubon men almost tried to beat me when I was trying to explain what was happening with the village. He was trying to attack me. I also have a couple of videos, and the chairman help people coming down here and bring dory so different people can haul nets, and that isn’t right.
Reporter: But those people have licenses?
Fisherman 1: Well that part I don’t really know but what I’m telling you is that they have already stated that we don’t need a license but now we need.
Fisherman 2: We cannot get Audubon Society. We asked them to work with us together as a team, but they refused to do so. Look at these guys, all of these guys they work fish for a living. We have resources. Crooked Tree is like the Sarstoon, do we want to be like the Sarstoon? No. We want to use out resources, we don’t want Guatemala to come and take it like what they’re doing in the Sarstoon.
Fisherman 3: Well I don’t really worry about anybody because I look after myself, nobody isn’t out there looking after me. Nobody gives me a dollar when I’m hungry, I got two step kids, and I live with my girl so I do what I got to do
Police had to be called in and one man, Anthony McDonald, was detained at Ladyville police station after it was found that his license had expired. He was released without charges the following day, Friday. Today, Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade said they do not control fishing activity in the area; only the handing out of fisherman’s licenses:
Beverly Wade, Fisheries Admin: I just want to make a clarification about Crooked Tree, it has nothing to do with the Fisheries Department. Crooked Tree is a Wild Life Sanctuary, it’s under the management of the Forest Department. If you are a person who wants to engage in fishing in the entire country of Belize, you require a fisherman license. We do not license people specifically for the Crooked Tree Area. We have no jurisdiction over that area. My understanding is that the Forest Department under its management authority grants people from Crooked Tree, haul days, that has nothing to do with us. All the forest department I believe have been telling us is that if you intended to now be involved with the Haul day you should have a fisherman license. Any Belizean who wishes to participate in commercial fishing activities should have a fisherman license. It doesn’t matter where it is. We have nothing to do with Crooked Tree except to give any Belizean an opportunity for a fisherman license.
Wade directed reporters to the Forest Department to find out why the mix-up. We will continue to follow the story.