On Tuesday we told you about an upheaval in Ambergris Caye after allegations of the transportation and exportation of tropical fishes, mostly endangered species including Sea Cucumbers, surfaced. Well, tonight we bring you both sides of the coin on the matter to perhaps put a rest to rumors and speculations. Reporter Maria Novelo has that story.

Screen_Shot_2014-01-09_at_8.28.31_PMMaria Novelo – Reporting

The sight of these boxed ‘Live Tropical Fish’ was enough to send alarm bells to many concerned residents, environmental advocates and conservationists on La Isla Bonita. And while the rumor mill churned around the island that possible endangered species are being sold and shipped off overseas to the US, many feel that bowing down to demands from the booming aquarium industry will affect the future of the country's aquatic diversity.

Export Fishing

“It is very sad to see this happening since our tourist come to the island and to the entire country come to visit the beautiful barrier reef and we are exporting our fish out.”

Maria Novelo – Reporter

“Some of the concerns we are getting is that some of the species are endangered is there any truth to that?”

Export Fishing

“Yes definitely there has been parrot fish, angel fishes and different types of fishes including the sea cucumber which is not a fish but one of our species of marine life that we know is a delicacy in the Belizean Community and we know that they use it to export and to sale for a very costly price in other parts of the world, right.”

Maria Novelo – Reporter

“Do you know where these fishes are headed and how frequent does it occur?”

Export Fishing

“I got information from the personnel at the international airport that they have been exporting them like once every month.”

CTV3 News understands that while there is a high demand for aquarium fish, by extension of the law, fish means scale fish and invertebrates. Around 98,000 specimens were exported last year of which only 20,000 were scale fish.  No parrot fish or any other grazers were exported.  To date, the maximum number of permits issued has been 4.  And according to Fisheries Officer at the Ecosystems Management Unit, James Azueta, who we corresponded with via email, presently there are only 3 Belizean permit holders of small scale operations.

Azueta says that there is no truth to the allegations coming out of San Pedro and that the clause is specified in the license. During their inspections at the holding facilities and during export, the unit also verifies that no grazers or parrot fish or endangered fishes are being exported.

We contacted Reserve Manager at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve in San Pedro Town who told us that he is not aware of any illegal exporting of fishes taking place. At the same time he educated us on the fact that the Parrot Fish in particular, is an herbivore which helps keep the reef clean.

Miguel- Reserve Manager at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve

“You cannot have in possession Parrot fish, if anybody is exporting parrot fish they are doing something illegal and it is not allowed.”

Maria Novelo – Reporter

“How far do you have to go in terms of getting involve when it come to the exportation of tropical fish, what is the procedure there?”

Miguel- Reserve Manager at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve

“We are not involve in that we are strictly management the marine reserve, we will enforce fisheries regulations but we don’t deal with issuing permits it is the fisheries department that does that, it is the fisheries department that issues any exportation permits and if it is exported it is being done illegally, fishes is protected in Belize only, there is one or other countries in the Caribbean that protect parrot fish and basically they keep the sea clean.”

Azueta added that these fish exported for the aquarium trade are shipped to the USA from where it finds its destination all over the world. Mortality rates are around 1%.  Since the operations are small scale, the volume of specimen is not concentrated.

The license holders know how to take care of the specimen and they arrive in excellent conditions at the destinations. It is noteworthy that the aquarium trade has been going on since 1973 when the export was around $400US.  Some of the species that are exported have populations in the millions of individuals and are reproducing rapidly with high prolific rates.

Belize is a party in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly known as CITES. This treaty regulates trade in endangered species of wildlife, plants and their products. International trade in species listed by CITES is illegal unless authorized by permit. Items prohibited by CITES include, but are not limited to, articles made from whale teeth, ivory, tortoise shell, reptile, fur skins, coral, and birds. In order to get an aquarium trade license one would have to apply in writing and submit a proposal specifying the targeted specimen, area to work on, handling facility, shipping destination, just to name a few.


However, an application does not guarantee a license as the areas of collection are large in order to ensure the sustainability of the trade. As previously mentioned, the Fisheries Department, periodically and unannounced, conducts inspections during collection, at the holding facilities and during shipping. 

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