Finding Tarpon and Not Gillnets!


Report from Grantee Wil Mehia on patrolling for illegal gilnetting - and catching the first tarpon along the border in years! 10/20/2017 (YDCCF supports will for a variety of efforts to document the illegal gilnetting on the southern border of Belize).

Wednesday was one of those days where it started out with lots of rainfall in the early morning and by mid-day, it was hotter than hell. Even the climate change deniers would have to acknowledge the effects of global warming.  That morning, when you looked out at the sea, the water was smooth as glass.  It was so calm and serene.

I said to my brother, who was visiting from Chicago, “This is perfect weather for the jacks (which means the illegal fishers would be out.)  I bet if we go down to the border area now, we will find them and we can chase them off.  After all, they are destroying our fisheries with all those gillnets.”   He looked at me and said, “Look man, I am here on vacation. If you’re talking about fishing, then I am in. But I don’t know about chasing off no illegal fishers.”  I chuckled at him and Immediately grabbed some rods and instructed him to get some ice and beer and meet me at the dock in half an hour as the weather was perfect for fishing.  He was game for that.  I called two more friends and said, “Fishing!”  and they too were on board. (after all we need more than two of us to haul nets)

By 3 PM, we were underway and when I turned the boat south they all looked at me and said, “Hell no! What the hell are you doing?! No one fishes south of PG! That area is full of gillnets.” I calmly replied, “Hold tight, guys. Things are changing here.”  My brother settled back in the boat and popped open a beer.  “Just don’t set us up for any fights,” he said. 

I kept heading south and kept an eye out for gillnets. After getting close to the border, I was extremely surprised to not find any nets because fishing conditions were perfect. It was impressive and gratifying to not see any nets in the area, especially since there were some illegal fishers here just last week.  We had called out the authorities to step up and perform their duties of protection and conservation in the area.  The absence of nets is testimony that ours and their patrol efforts seemed to have helped keep gillnets out of the waters here. 

Upon arriving to a quiet spot, I told the guys to keep a watch out for birds… jacks would appear soon.  Less than five minutes after saying that, what a sight to behold! There were literally hundreds of tarpon swimming around, happily chasing bait fish and having a great time doing it.  None of us could believe what we were seeing.  Immediately a line went out and before the beer can go down the line was tight.   Oh mien, what a feeling to see the silver king Jump!  It’s tough to have a bad day when you are surrounded by nature’s beauty and then the exhilaration of an awesome catch just topped off our day, especially when we were in what is known as gillnet territory.  But the proof is in the pudding we keep on the authorities and shame them enough and eventually they do their jobs.  When we got back to town, I asked almost every fisherman I know when was the last time a tarpon was caught in that area.  No one could recall such an event as it had been so long since one was caught. 

I just want to thank those of you who continue to support us in our endeavors to protect and patrol this area. The amount of bait fish that is in this area is incredible and it is so rich because of the three rivers that empty into the bay. If we can continue to keep the nets out of this area, I am positive that the fishery will return and more great fishing will come alive for all of us to enjoy and appreciate. Thanks again and thanks for letting me share this story with you.

Happy Friday!!