The Fisheries Unit, while conducting maritime operations on Northern Two Caye in the Lighthouse Reef Atoll area on Saturday, September 28, in an effort to enforce the closed season for conch, which ended on Monday, September 30, when the season opened, found and confiscated an icebox containing 5400 units of conch, which together weighed about 1,200 pounds.
The conch, which were fillet and had already been processed, were stashed in sixteen sacks in an ice box nestled in mangroves. No persons were found in the area, so the products were taken into custody by the Department and labeled as found property.
Hampton Gamboa, Fisheries Supervisor of the Conservation Compliance Unit, told Amandala that on Saturday, September 28, they were conducting searches at Northern Two Caye on Lighthouse Reef Atoll when they found the ice box containing the products. He went on to say that a magistrate will order a disposal of the confiscated products.
The Fisheries Supervisor said that that if the men who harvested the illegal conch had been captured and taken to court, they could have expected to pay a fine of $167,000, since the court assigned a value of $30 to each unit of conch, of which there were 5,400.
If the men had taken the products to the Northern Fishermen Co-operative, they could have walked away with $7,000 as the first payment, he said.
In a press release issued yesterday, the Belize Fisheries Department said that the joint operation carried out involved the participation of the Belize National Coast Guard, Belize Audubon Society and the Police Department’s Gang Suppression Unit, who together executed a series of enforcement operations from early September up until October 1. The operations were focused on enforcing the general compliance with, and strict observation of, the closed season for conch, by the fishermen.
During the operation, 43 sailboats and 35 skiffs were boarded and searched. Also, 423 fishermen were intercepted and interrogated for various fisheries offenses. This resulted in 11 fishers being arrested and charged for the possession of conch during the closed season. Six of these persons were charged for the possession of 612 conchs during the closed season. Two of these fishers were also charged for 299 units of conch. Another two fishers were charged for the possession of 295 conch during the closed season, and the last fisher was charged for the possession of 40 out-of-season conch.
The joint Fisheries enforcement operations also resulted in four fishers being charged for the possession of undersized lobster or crawfish: Two of these individuals were charged for the possession of 126 undersized lobsters and the other two were charged for the possession of 25 undersized lobsters.
The operation also resulted in the discovery of two crawls or conch pens: One pen was found 25 yards off Columbus Caye. Within this pen were 313 individual live conchs. The other conch pen was found on the southwestern portion of Northern Two Caye on Lighthouse Reef Atoll: this contained 435 live conchs.
Both conch pens were destroyed and the conchs were relocated inside the South Water Caye Marine Reserve and the Blue Hole Natural Monument. The fines associated with the various charges and convictions have amounted to $43,030.00. The illegal fishery products were also confiscated by the court.
The Fisheries Unit reminds the fishermen and the public that the primary objective of the laws governing the closed seasons and the size of fishery products is to ensure a sustainable conch industry. The Department appeals to fishers and the public in general to uphold the Fishing Regulations in regards to conch and other marine products and urges all responsible citizens to call the Department to report any violation of the closed season.