Bonefish & Tarpon Trust

Conserving Belize and Mexico’s Flats Fisheries

A permit tagged and released near San Pedro, Belize. Photo: Silverline Films

Through science, education and conservation activities, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust made significant strides in 2021 toward improving the health and management of Belize and Mexico’s flats fisheries. BTT’s conservation efforts in the region also benefit other fisheries and sustainable eco-tourism activities, as they all rely on the healthy habitats BTT is working to protect and conserve.

To fill-in gaps in knowledge on the science of flats species, BTT provided guidance and support for co-managers in northern Belize to access external grants to improve conservation and management. BTT was then able to train co-managers in tagging before embarking on a collaborative effort to determine permit movement patterns in flats habitats where the most common threats are coastal development and beach traps. Collaboration with co-managers and other stakeholders in this way fosters conservation on the local and national level. BTT also monitored bonefish pre-spawning activity in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve in Ambergris Caye, Belize, from November of 2021 and finalized the study in January 2022. Generating information on bonefish’s pre-spawning is important, as any threats to this important life stage could negatively impact local populations and also those in Florida.

To address the low score in fish handling and practices in Mexico, an education workshop was held in Xcalak, located near the Mexico-Belize border. Rex Hannon from Florida provided casting lessons and science-based best fish handling techniques. Local researcher and guide Roberto Herrera presented on the importance of habitats for sustaining the livelihoods of Xcalak’s citizens. Additionally, as part of BTT’s Belize-Mexico educational outreach, a conservation video, Paradise Under Threat, sponsored by Blue Bonefish Lodge, was produced to raise awareness of the threats of costal development to flats habitats and beach traps to flats species. Both threaten livelihoods and occur in every corner, from southern Belize to the north in Hol Box, from Quintana Roo to Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico.

Conservation is supported by scientific research and education, as conservation refers to the development and implementation of actions or tools (such as catch-and-release, best handing practices, habitat protection or restoration) that increases the likelihood that a fishery system is managed sustainably. If a fishery is sustainable, then other things – whether social, economic, or ecological – in a broader sense will benefit.

BTT thanks Jose “Carreto” Ucan and Lily Beltran, Acocote Eco Inn, XTC Dive Center in Mexico, Blue Bonefish, Silverline Films, El Pescador Lodge and Villas, Omar’s Freelance, guide Hilian Martinez, and many guides and supporters.