Shameful shark kill – World Heritage Lighthouse Reef Atoll

Shameful shark kill – World Heritage Lighthouse Reef Atoll

We have just been alerted by many people to a large kill of sharks in and near the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye at Lighthouse Reef Atoll. The Jewels of Belize’s marine heritage and tourism have been hit hard by several unlicensed fishers using the unsustainable fishing gears nets and longlines.

These pictures represent a portion of a single day’s fishing with nets and longlines and include at least 32 sharks representing 3 species including the Endangered great hammerhead and pregnant Caribbean reef sharks (and sources counted at least 50 sharks landed in the short space of time they were at the sites). The sharks were landed at Sandbore Caye and Hat Caye at Lighthouse.

Little to none of the shark meat is consumed in Belize (it’s full of neurotoxic mercury) as it’s traditionally exported to Guatemala. And Hammerheads (meat and or fins) cannot be legally exported across national boundaries without a specific export license that is ultimately approved by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This international convention, to which Belize is a signatory, notes that countries wanting to export listed species (such as the hammerheads and even conch – both listed under the Appendix II) must prove internationally through a process called a non-detriment finding prepared with Belize’s independent Scientific Authority, that the fishery for the listed species is sustainable. However, fisheries for large long-lived, late maturing and low production sharks including hammerheads and Caribbean reef sharks are recognized worldwide as UNsustainable. This means they should NOT be fished.

The sharks in the pictures were captured by a handful of fishers apparently working under only two shark fishing licenses and targeting Belize’s marine jewel in the crown, Lighthouse Reef Atoll. These sharks were a mainstay of dive and snorkel tourism at the atoll and helped to support many local businesses that rely on tourism for their income. These dead sharks represented millions of dollars in lost revenue, not only to Belize’s tourism sector and the many families and politicians they support, but also to coral reef ecosystem resilience, as these animals play a critical role in maintaining reef health.

Live sharks and rays generate far more income to a country that shark fisheries. These swimming “Golden geese” of the sea generate a continuous and often rising stream of revenue as a destination becomes known for hosting expanding populations of sharks. An example from our region is the Bahamas where shark tourism was recently valued at over US$70 million annually and benefits countless families and businesses.

Considering the many costs and benefits to Belize, shark fishing no longer makes any economic sense for Belize. The inability of fishers to selectively target only the small rapidly reproducing shark species (and only if adequately monitored and enforced) along with the lack of enforcement means that there is no hope for fostering a sustainable shark fishery. If you add to this the small economic value gained by a handful of shark fishers compared to the economic importance of sharks to the country’s largest GDP earner (tourism) and the country’s immediate need to shore up both coral reef and fin-fish fisheries resiliency, then it’s clear, there are no more clear rational or economic arguments as to why this fishery is permitted to continue.

We are all stakeholders of sustainable fisheries and by extension of shark and rays … especially the tourism sector that earns millions and generates countless jobs from catch and release fly-fishing and other recreational fishing as well as snorkeling and diving with live sharks and rays. It’s time to be heard: request a voice in decision-making regarding sustainable fisheries and sharks and rays (a key avenue is representation in the National Shark Advisory Committee run by the Fisheries Department). To the public, decision-makers, politicians, managers, fin-fish and invertebrate fishers, teachers and students: STAND UP FOR YOUR SHARKS AND RAYS. Whether you know it or not, they have brought you so much and will continue to support you if you protect them.

You want to see change? You CAN make a difference. Please contact our Minister of Natural Resources Hon. Gaspar Vega and let him know that you support sustainable fishing in Belize, prefer to see sharks and rays alive and that you do not support the use of nets and longlines at:

UNESCO UNESCO World Heritage Belize Vacation Belize Tourism Board Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) Belize Audubon Society San Pedro Tourist Guide Association Ministry of Tourism and Culture Manuel Heredia Jr. Mito Paz Karen P. Bevans Einer Gomez Ramon’s Village Resort AmigosdelMar DiveShop Hol Chan Marine Reserve E-Z Boy Tours Caye Caulker Caye Caulker Water Taxi @ChuckandRobbie’sDiveshop Ecologic Divers Belize Diving Services Frenchie’s Diving Ragamuffin Tours @Belizedivingadventures The Lodge at Chaa Creek Itza Lodge Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve Turneffe Flats Turneffe Island Resort Belize Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) Oceana Oceana Belize Wildlife Conservation Network Southern Environmental Association Leonardo DiCaprio Project AWARE Foundation Seahorse Dive Shop The Inn at Robert’s Grove Turtle Inn Hamanasi Resort Tropic Air Belize Blue Ventures Sarteneja Fishermen Association Stann Creek Fishermen Belize Fishermen Cooperative Associaton Turneffe Island Resort SOS – Save Our Species Aggressor Fleet @seasportsBelize Ecomar Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) Maya Island Air Belize Mission Blue Divers for Sharks The Shark Trust
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals CITES IUCN Red List of Threatened Species San Pedro Sun PGTV Belize Coast Guard Service

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