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The fishing industry is a vital part of the Belizean economy accounting for 7.2% of the GDP in 2001. Fishing has grown from a subsistence type activity to a commercial activity exporting to the U.S., Europe and the Caribbean. The export market opened in the 1920s, with lobster and conch being the top exported products. These products have remained important parts of catches for fishermen in Belize. Most fishing takes place inside the Barrier Reef and around Glovers', Turneffe and Lighthouse Reef.

Fish at the coop prepared for export
Fish at the coop prepared for export

Fishermen come from many towns along the coast of Belize including Sarteneja and Corozal Town in the north. The town of Sarteneja survives on fishing - 90% of the inhabitants rely on catches of lobster, conch and fin fish to make a living. Many of the fishing boats which ply the waters of the Barrier Reef originate from Sarteneja or Corozal.

Fishing the barrier reef
Fishing the Barrier Reef

Fishing boats come in many shapes and sizes depending on their use and catch. Open boats are made of either wood or fibreglass, 4.3-7.6 m in length, propelled by outboard engines primarily for lobster trapping. These boats tend to work within a days journey of home.

fiberglass fishing boat at dawn
Fishing Skiff at Dawn

Sloops are mostly wooden vessels up to 10 m in length, equipped with sails and smaller auxiliary outboard engines primarily for free diving for lobster, conch and occasionally finfish. These are the boats that range all over the coastal areas of Belize in search of catch.

sailboat from Sarteneja
Sailboat from Sarteneja

Large dug-out canoes are used in fishing areas closer to home, and are equipped with small engines and oars, primarily for fishing finfish using handlines or nets.

dugout  fishing "dories"
Fishing Dory close to shore

The fishing seasons for conch and lobster are:

  • Conch (Strombus gigas) : Shell length should exceed 7 inches and the market clean weight should exceed 3 ounces. Closed seasons is July 1st to September 30th.

  • Lobster (Panulirus argus) : Minimum cape length of 3 inches and minimum tail weight of 4 ounces. Closed season from February 15th to June 14th.

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