Fishing in Belize is more than a profession; it is also a tradition that has been maintained and practiced for generations. As a vital livelihood, those depending on it are also aware of the importance of protecting this vulnerable industry from abuse and overfishing. Among the hundreds of fishing spots along the Belizean Caribbean coastline, there is a particular area that a dedicated family sustainably uses out of Sarteneja Village in northern Belize. The Lopez family fish and look after a fishing area around Middle Long Caye, rich in fisheries stock and a mangrove haven southeast of Belize City.
The third-generation family of fishermen is headed by Ismael Lopez Sr., followed by Ismael Lopez Jr. and now his son Rodrigo Lopez. The fishing family is also very active with the Belize Federation of Fishers (BFF), a non-profit organization of fishermen working with commercial fishermen. We visited Lopez’s fishing camp on Middle Long Caye with the BFF’s assistance. The Lopez crew were happy to welcome us to their camp, where they spend most of their time making a living.
Lopez Jr. gave us a camp tour and shared that his family has been fishing in this area for decades. We walked along a pier where they keep fish traps and a giant ice container for fish storage. This pier leads to their homes on the small land portion of the island. The greater part of Middle Long Caye is underneath water and covered by a massive mangrove forest. The family, their pets, and other fisher folks live in these little houses, spend time together, and plan their daily activities. They even have an organic garden to supplement their cooking with fresh vegetables. After a couple of weeks of fishing, they travel to the mainland and sell their products in Belize City to the cooperatives. They visit relatives, stock up on groceries and other provisions, and travel back to the isolated Caye, where the fishing life continues.
Throughout the decades, the camp has survived through good and bad times, such as the devastation of hurricanes and attacks from pirates. Yes! You heard it right! Mr. Lopez Jr. said that in the past, their camp had been raided and even burned down by bandits they call pirates, who intended to discourage them from continuing fishing in the area. However, the Lopez family is here to stay.
An example of sustainable fishing practices
Besides all the sacrifices the Lopez family has made, what makes this fishing camp remarkable is how they have managed to strike a balance between conservation and extraction. Contrary to other fishing sites along the Belizean coast, where fisheries stock is declining, at Middle Long Caye, the Lopez folks say they maintain these resources. According to Lopez Sr., there is not much difference in the number of marine species, such as lobster, conch, and certain types of fish, compared to 25 years ago. Rodrigo told us they take good care of their fishing grounds and only take what they need.
Another type of fishing they practice is via sailboats. We went out to see one of these boats, and they explained that up to six fishermen travel in these vessels, where they live and work for days. They have an ample supply of ice, keeping their catch fresh. The Lopez family was happy to share with us the life of a fisherman but also indicated that they face other threats. One of these is extending marine protected areas near Middle Long Caye. These will shrink their fishing space. The Lopez fisherfolks see the importance of the government’s help, but they believe that what they have been doing for the past years is preserving the local marine resources. They are open to working with the respective conservation authorities and encourage other fisherfolks nationwide to be responsible and fish responsibly. The Lopez way has worked so far, as they continue reaping the benefits of a well-managed fishing practice.

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About the Author: Dion Vansen

Dion spent his childhood in a tiny remote village called Trio in Southern Belize. His back yard was a lush green forest and a winding river that kissed the edges of the village. This is where his love for adventure and exploring nature emerged. Dion loves new experiences, such as hiking mountains, exploring caves, meeting new people, traveling, writing, reading about history and literature, and of course treating his taste buds with some succulent grub. Life is an adventure and Dion likes the idea of visiting places, indulging in new cultures, and writing a great story about it. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, hey! He's up for some fun!

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