A Big Break for Belize Tarpon, Bonefish, and Other Saltwater Flats Fish.

Belize is home to some world-class saltwater fisheries. Fly anglers are most familiar with flats fishing on skiffs pushed around in knee deep water. Target species include tarpon, bonefish, permit, triggerfish and more that visit the shallow flats to feed.

Just like in our cold water salmon rivers, gill nets are an extremely productive method of hauling in fish. The problem: it isn’t ethical.

Gill nets cover a certain depth and are kept to the surface by attached buoys. They’re left deployed, often for days at a time and holes in the net trap fish. This method of harvesting isn’t sustainable for the following reasons:

A juvenile tarpon lost to a Belize gill net, Photo Courtesy of @bluehorizonfly
  • There’s no navigating around non-target species. Take the following scenario: You target bonefish on the flats for food and profit. But, a popular sportfish (tarpon) also feeds on the flats. There’s no way to only catch bonefish and not tarpon! Since anything that ends up in the net dies, gill nets make for increased unintentional killing of gamefish.
  • You can’t put an effective size limit on the catch. Sure, some fish may be small enough to slip right through the net, but maximum-size limits and slot limits can’t be enforced.

Fortunately, the age of gill netting is coming to an end. On November 6 of this year, the government of Belize passed a law that will prohibit the use of gill nets in any of the country’s waters. This will help out the sportfishing community of the Caribbean Sea by reducing stress on gamefish and hopefully keeping the population from declining. With healthier fish populations, Belizean guides and others that depend on Caribbean gamefish will have healthier businesses.

The prohibition of gill nets in Belize is a huge step forward in protecting our saltwater flats fish. Although there are still many steps to be taken in ensuring the health of saltwater fisheries, we’re stoked that the right actions are being made!

Belize is working to “ensure that Belizeans will be able to depend on a bountiful and beautiful Caribbean Sea for generations to come.” Well put! We are with you all the way!

Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing

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