Feb 15

A victory for Belize and for us

This is what a victory looks like:

The Government of Belize through the Cabinet has approved the proposed expansion of Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The decision taken to approve the expansion of the reserve was made on February 17th following the completion of minor adjustments made to the original draft proposal. The decision brings the project one step closer to fruition following years of lobbying by marine environmentalists on Ambergris Caye.

In this day and age of zero-sum politics where your victory is my loss, it is unusual to see something where everyone wins. The expansion of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is the rare win-win. Maybe there are some developers out there who lose, but I really don’t mind that, not one bit.

Expanding protections around Ambergris is fantastic. It is a special place and deserves not to be exploited to death and then left to rot.

The people of Belize win by ensuring that their natural heritage stands a better shot at survival, of thriving. With that natural gift come the tourists and the jobs and livelihoods. And we, we the tourists, the anglers, we get a better shot at that grand slam and the peace and quiet and serenity that comes from the flats when it is just you, your guide and the wind.

Fantastic and congratulations to Belize!

Belize Bonefish

Belize Bonefish

Jan 12

Belize… the difference between passing and making laws

Belize has passed some great laws protecting bonefish, permit and tarpon. That’s great.  Way to go Belize. Passing laws like that is not easy.

However… enforcement lags behind and there are some real threats out there in Belizean waters right now.  Case in point is the matter of a boat, fishing out of San Pedro, that appears to be netting permit, killing permit and selling permit. (thanks for the link Adam)

Authorities have been alerted (thanks in part to the co-owner of El Pescador), but nothing has come of it. While there is a law passed to protect permit, it is not a reality in some of the waters around Ambergris.

So… Come on Belize. Put some teeth in there.


Nov 10

Interview with Ali Gentry Flota – Co-Owner, El Pescador Lodge

Spending a few days as the guest of Ali down at her lodge, El Pescador Lodge (you can follow them on Facebook too), on Ambergris Caye in Belize, you have to admire the beauty of the surroundings.  You also get the sense that it all is very precarious.  El Pescador, years ago, was not book-ended by other condos/resorts, but now it is.  Now, the string of docks and buildings continues about 5 miles beyond EP.  Until the US economy took a header, the area around Ambergris was seeing more and more plans to develop fringe “land” that would need to be bulldozed, dredged and filled… ya know… the kinds of places bonefish feed… the kinds of places bait lives.  Now, there is a pause in that development and there is a chance to get things back to more sanity… more sustainability.  One of the strongest voices for this re-visioning of future of Ambergris is none other than Ali from El Pescador.   I wanted to give Ali a chance to get some of her thoughts out there about the future of Ambergris.

A nice place to be.

You’ve been on Ambergris for a while now, what are some of the changes you’ve seen for better and worse?

Sustainable development is a delicate balancing act.  As a foreigner investor in Belize, I believe that our relationship must be mutually beneficial.  My business must benefit the community through a variety of means – jobs, taxes, support and activism in exchange for giving me the opportunity to operate my business in this paradise.  Over the years I have seen many benefits from development including higher quality of life for San Pedranos, access to better education, access to better medical care as well as more (but not yet sufficient) infrastructure such as electricity, water, sewage, cell phones, cable, internet, trash collection and fire trucks.  As foreigners we come to Belize for a better and simpler quality of life.  But for Belizeans, they have the same American dream our parents and grandparents had – a better life for their children with access to what we consider “basic services.”  But, those “basic services” are very hard to attain in a 3rd world country.

I have also seen more of a community environmental consciousness with the advent of development.  For a long time, we assumed investors would “do the right thing.”  Now, we are learning that laws need to be put in place to protect the very thing that attracts the investors – but for some reason they are intent upon destroying.  It seems painfully obvious to me that the only reason a hotel, condominium or real estate project would be successful in Belize is because of our natural beauty (the reef, the fishery, the jungle, etc).  Yet – large scale developments that are only interested in short term profits are willing to ruin the environment through dredging the sea grass beds and cutting of mangroves which will in turn kill the reef. They are willing to destroy the very thing that is making them money – because they are only interested in the short term profit.

We need a way to make all developers have a long term stake in their project and we need politicians with a long term plan and goal for the country.  One way to make a developer have a vested interest in the future of the country is to only allow them to sell 49% of the development.  If they have to maintain 51% ownership then it will be in their best interest to conserve the environment, build with quality materials, provide on-going maintenance and put a marketing plan in effect, among other things.

In the booming days of the US economy it seems development was running at a break-neck pace in Ambergris.  What has the US recession meant for Ambergris and what do you see happening in the next couple of years?

The silver lining to the world wide economic break down has been that development has all but stopped for 2 years on Ambergris.  Some projects have gone out of business.  Others will continue once access to money starts to flow again.  This has given us additional time to work on developing a master plan for both the island as well as a tourism master plan.  Both of these will guide the future of development on the island and in the country.  Then we will not have to fight individual properties like South Beach; instead we should have a master plan that says it is illegal to build it because it is on 100% mangroves and not on real “land” which is a no build zone (for example).

As more and more of the actual “land” gets bought up, more and more fringe land is getting sold and developed.  Talk about that?

It is a significant problem that mimics every beach community in the USA.  Once all the beach front is gone then they fill in the bay side as the next “water front” property.  I am hopeful that the master plan will address this and it will not be allowed to be developed for commercial purposes.  One little private beach shack with some solar panels for electricity is not a problem – but someone who fills in the property by dredging our fishery and then builds 100 condos is a problem.

While there is a no-kill law on the books in Belize for bonefish, permit and tarpon, I noticed a large number of fish traps on the west side of Ambergris that seem like just about the perfect bonefish/permit killers around.  Is anything being done to address the by-catch in those traps?

Glad to hear these won't be around forever

The stick fish traps you are talking about are illegal – the ones you saw are grandfathered in.  When the owner dies, the trap will be removed.  Every year there are less and less.

Can you talk a little about the work that Green Reef is doing there?

Not nearly as well as Mito Paz, who is the head of Green Reef.

One thing they are currently working on is a sport fish conservation plan for Belize.  They, along with key stakeholders (such as lodges, guides, commercial fishermen, NGOs) are developing recommendations that will be presented to policy makers for the further development of appropriate conservation and management measures for the protection of critical sport fish habitat.

Thanks Ali.  Keep up the good work.

Sunrise at El Pescador (photo by Shane)

Nov 10

Belize Day Three – The Lagoon

The weather was set to continue being crappy and that didn’t seem like a good day to go out with a guide, so we decided this would be our DIY day.  El Pescador is on the beach, but in the back, it has a small dock that leads to a lagoon… in the lagoon are bonefish.  Instead of walking the beach, we set out by paddle.  El Pescador has a rough map with some spots marked and we used that as a starting point to get to the fish.

Stormy skies and the red canoe

The first shore we patrolled was devoid of anything resembling a bonefish, so we moved on.  Shane moved further down the beach and I stayed closer.  Twenty minutes on I saw a bonefish cruising out of some flooded mangroves.  I threw a brown gotcha in a #8 and the fish saw it and charged it.  I set, the fish was hooked and it started its run.  I tried to clear the line, but… well… the line still jumped up and wrapped around my hand. I was now 0/1.  Rumor has it that I dropped a couple of f-bombs at this point in the trip, but those reports are unconfirmed.  About 5 minutes later and Shane was hooked up… first fish of the trip was in the books.

The seal breaker.

One more move and my rod was finally bent all the way to conclusion.

Get bent.

Well, isn't (s)he cute?

Turns out what you’ve heard about Belize bonefish is largely true… which is they aren’t very large.  This little guy was about the size we caught.  We did see a few bigger fish and even caught some (mostly Shane), but there are a lot of smaller fish here.  They are still very, very fun and it does present an opportunity to down-size on your rod selection.  You could easily get away with a six and, ya know… maybe even a 5.  That means if you want to get into bonefishing and don’t want to go out and buy a new rod for one trip, you could grab your trout gear and head to Belize.  Just say’n.

Out in the lagoon for the rest of the trip we had a simple rule… before you dip into the cooler for a beer, you have to land a fish.  So, this was a nice beer.

Mmmm... good.

Belikin is the beer of Belize and we drank a fair bit of it… 58 of them according to the bar tab.  Here’s the thing about Belikin… they are a LIE.  The bottle is heavy… very heavy… the weight of each bottle is roughly 95% glass and 5% beer.  They are about 2 ounces each… or 9.6 ounces as it turns out.  You can grab and empty bottle and the weight makes you think it is full… but it isn’t.  That is a tragedy.  When you have a Belikin you are largely holding glass.  Someone said when you buy a Belikin you also buy a weapon… and I can see that.  In my totally imagined feud between Kalik and Belikin, I’m going to raise the Kalik on sheer volume.  Hope that doesn’t offend anyone, but really… a beer should be AT LEAST 12 ounces… AT LEAST.

I only managed a couple of fish that day, Shane had about 7, which was a sign that things were as they should be.  Shane’s a much better angler than I am since he’s a guide on the water about 200 days a year and he has about 350 days of bonefishing under his belt.

It seemed appropriate with it raining that hard... to have a beer.

The rain came and went… and then came again.  Our paddle back to El Pescador was a wet and windy one.  Just as we got to the mangrove chute we’d take to get to the dock Shane was mentioning that this particular environment looked ideal for baby tarpon.  Then I saw one roll.  So, we fished for some very small baby tarpon for a few minutes.  I cast from the canoe while Shane stood in the back of the canoe trying to locate the fish.  I had one eat, but didn’t hook it.

When we got back the light was failing and we were both wetter than seemed possible.  It had been a challenging day, but we had made it work.  The best time to go fishing, after all, isn’t when the weather is perfect.  The best time to go fishing is when you can.

wet, wet, wet

We made the right call and had a fun day under the Belizean clouds.

Small? Sure. Pretty? You bet.

The third day of the trip and the second day in Belize were done.  Dinner was fantastic… Lobster and Chicken Parmesan.   They treat you right at El Pescador.

The next day was going to be with a guide and a trip to the tarpon flats.

Aug 10

South Beach Belize… douchebags.

I enjoyed my recent interview with Lori-Ann Murphy of El Pescador.  After talking with her I did some more poking around on-line to see what I could find out about development or over-development in Ambergris.

The first thing I found was nice little video by Wil Flack, good friend of Lori-Ann and seemingly all around good guy.


South Beach Belize… it sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?  Wouldn’t it be nice to retire down in Belize… grab your rod in the morning after you’ve had your coffee and go and catch a bonefish in out your front door?  It does sound nice.  The downside is that they have to dredge the bejesus out of the flats and bulldoze the hell out of the mangroves to get that front door there.  All those mangroves are where the fish live/grow/hunt.  You nuke the mangroves and you nuke the fishing.

I don’t even know that much about saltwater fishing, but I can understand that pretty well.

This is what greed looks like.

Sounds like these guys have been botching the job since day -1 (and more).

You can seen the construction, right up against a protected area.

It is a little difficult to figure out what exactly is happening on the ground.  I found the website for Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development and their listing of the status of current projects. They seem to think that the project has not been green-lit, although it is easy enough to find folks selling South Beach Belize property.

It sounds like the project is on hold for now.  Before you go and drop some coin on a little bit of raped and pillaged Belize, just think that these guys sold plots for a project that isn’t even in the bag.  That can’t be good.

I have no idea, but I can’t get this video to embed in this post… here’s a link to a video called “How South Beach Belize Will Impact Ambergris.”

Jan 10

El Pescador Vid

I saw this vid and had to share.  Thinking of getting my dad out to Ambergris this summer and the likely spot is actually El Pescador.

Fast forward to about 1:30 to get to the fishing.