I grew up the son of a fisherman; because I chose to be a businessman I am unable to fish in Belizean waters. None of my friends or relatives are willing to take me out to traditional fishing grounds because I do not have the necessary licenses, permits or pay the necessary fees to fish.
I am ashamed to say that it is easier and cheaper for me to fish in Cozumel, Mexico than it is to do in Belize. Coming from a village I would have to lose business time and go to the city to obtain these.
Not worth it for once or twice a year. I now go to Cozumel once or twice a year to fish instead of doing so in Belize. Cozumel has the same sand, sun, sea and Maya ruins as Belize for half the cost. I can travel from Belize to Playa del Carmen for around $50.00, plus another $5.00 to ferry to Cozumel. Cost of hiring a boat with captain plus a few beers is around half of what it is in Belize. These trips cost me far less than what I would pay in Belize if only I could have done it in the first place.
What makes this so affordable? Taxes, taxes, taxes . Belize is taxing itself out of business. High taxes on fuel, utilities, hotels and other operating costs make Belize less than competitive in offering affordable competition. The Prime Minister did not make it any easier when he announced that the agreements he had negotiated with the hotel sector “aren’t going to happen”.
I would like to suggest to the Fisheries Department to amend the Fisheries Act so that those of us who grew up in coastal communities and are not fishermen can do so in a sports fishing manner. This amendment should include provisions for citizens to go out on traditional fishing grounds and catch no more than four or five mutton snappers or Nassau Groupers per trip in any one week.
Boat captains should be permitted to take any group of Belizeans for up to six hours of stay on these banks. This could be a source of income for licensed boat captains. Doing the same for conch and lobster could also be explored during open season.
There is a commercial showing on television telling us that if we do not protect the groupers, future generations won‘t be able to see them in their natural environment. The fact is the majority of Belizeans at present are not permitted to or cannot afford to see these fish in their natural environment. I cannot go near traditional fishing grounds without being harassed by members of the Fisheries Department or park rangers.
Recent migrants have been getting fishing licenses for some time and allowed to fish on these banks while I cannot. They are being assisted by a former Minister who assists in exchange for political patronage.
On further thought, there may be strong opposition from the conservationists; their argument will be that the whale shark will be disturbed.
Fact is, we are saving and conserving for the Guatemalans and Hondurans who come without fishing permits in our waters at night and GOB is unable or unwilling to stop them from harvesting our fish population all year round.
So it seems in the short to medium term I will continue to take my fishing vacation dollars to Cozumel.