Unsustainable Commercial Fishing

Spiny Lobster

Although spiny lobster fishing has been a part of Turneffe since at least 400 A.D., catches have declined significantly over the past decade due to over fishing.

As noted by Catterall (1996), the economy of Belize is based on fishing, agriculture and tourism with Spiny Lobster accounting for 60% to 75% of the value of all fisheries exports.  The majority of the Spiny Lobster catch in Belize originates from Turneffe.

Until recent decades, lobster were harvest by free diving, with lobster pots being introduced in the mid 20th century.  At present, there are 25-30 active fishing camps at Turneffe with the largest using more than 2000 lobster pots.

A lobster fishing season and size limit are currently in place although budgetary limitations severely limit enforcement.

Large populations of conch have existed at Turneffe since at least 400 A.D. when the Maya fished Turneffe.  Like spiny lobster, conch populations have declined significantly in recent years due to severe over fishing.

Conch thrive in the seagrass shallows at Turneffe and are easily collected by fishermen using small dories or walking the seagrass flats.  A fishing season and a size limit are in place, but again, enforcement is lacking.

Although many varieties of finfish live on the reefs and flats at Turneffe, Grouper (primarily Nassau Grouper) and Snapper (Red Snapper, Dog Tooth Snapper, Mutton Snapper and Yellow Tail Snapper) are the principle commercial targets.  In particular, Grouper and Snapper have declined over the past decade.

Grouper and snappers are unique in that they gather in large aggregations at traditional locations to spawn. Many of the spawning locations have been used by these species for uncountable generations. This behavior makes them very susceptible to over fishing. Commercial fishermen in Belize and throughout the Caribbean have targeted spawning aggregation sites for generations.  Although not yet the case at Turneffe, fishing spawning aggregation sites has wiped out grouper and snapper populations in many Caribbean locations.

Fishing for finfish has primarily been done with simple fishing tackle such as hand lines, although net fishing has now become more predominant.  A number of large spawning aggregations exist around the Turneffe Atoll, which have been heavily fished by locals.  Recently, spawning aggregation sites have been placed on the list of Marine Protected Areas; however, enforcement remains a big issue.