Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


Ramon A. Carcamo Jr[8]

Description of the Fishery

Prior to 1946 the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) was seldom fished as a lucrative commodity (Gordon, 1986). Over the past decades the industry grew as more fishers ventured into the fishery for good returns (Fig.1) (Richards, 2001).

Figure 1. Lobster (whole) production, Belize, 1932-2001

Divers using hook-sticks mostly catch lobster within the extensive inshore reef habitats along the coast of Belize, while others use wooden traps and "casitas". The traps used are rectangular "palmetto" traps normally un-baited (or with coconut) with a funnel entrance on one side. They are set in the sea-grass beds behind the reef crest in shallow waters (3-16 m). Fishers who have traps use small motor launches (5-10 m) with 15 to 75 hp engines, and divers use sailing sloops (averaging 8 m) with auxiliary outboard motors (FAO, 1965).

Over the last few years the lobster fishery has dominated the fishing industry by becoming the highest and the most important income earning artisanal fishery in Belize. This fishery is seasonal, kept as "open access" for eight months of the year. There are presently four functional cooperatives where lobster tails and lobster head meat are bought from fishers. These cooperatives are required to sell about 5 percent of their processed lobster locally.

The four operating fishers cooperatives have maintained lobster production between 545 and 831 tonnes over the last five years (Table 1). In 2001 landings were 29 percent lower than in 1999.

Table 1. Lobster (whole) production in Belize, 1997-2001 (tonnes)






Whole lobster






Presently there are over 3 000 registered part-time and full-time fishers that are involved in the fishing industry of which 90 percent take part in the lobster and conch fisheries. In 2001 there were 1 707 licensed fishers, 8.8 percent less than in 2000. In 2000, 790 vessels were registered, while in 2001, 1 455 vessels were registered.

In 2001 the lobster fishery earned approximately $12.9 million Belize dollars ($US6.45 million[9]) with 209 tonnes of processed-exported product (Fig. 2). The success and importance of the lobster fishery can still be attributed to the demand and lucrative average price of US$29 per kilogram export value on the international markets.

Figure 2. Value of lobster export in Belize dollars, 1998-2001

Management Regulations

The Fisheries Act of 1948, and its Amendments, Regulations and its Subsidiary Legislation regulate fishing for lobster. It is illegal to harvest:


The information on the biology of spiny lobsters in Belize requires updating, as it is several decades old.

The Belizean fishing area is divided into six fishing zones (Burke, 1982). Burke showed that the northern, central and southern part of the coastline had distinctly different habitat types, and therefore it was imperative that each individual species, whether or not it is distributed throughout the coast must be treated as separate population within each zone. The distribution of lobster is restricted to three distinct bottom environments: rocky areas adjacent to the reef, mangrove root systems and sea grass beds.

Studies have been conducted on spawning seasons as indicated by the occurrence of 'berried' females.

Available Data and Recent Developments


During the presence of hurricane Mitch (1998), which lingered off the coast of Honduras and Belize created wind and wave actions causing thousands of fish and lobster traps to be lost either by being washed away or covered with settling mud. The Fishers Cooperatives members reported a total loss of 30 365 lobster traps, 130 crab traps, 95 fish traps, 30 drums, 315 shades, 44 gear/equipment and 14 camps. The Fisheries sector experienced a total loss estimated at more than Bz$1.2 million (Santos, 1999). However, this did not affect the industry as a whole due to the contribution of the Southern Cooperative (Rio Grande Cooperative) that added to the production.

After hurricane Keith (October 2000) the Northern and Central fishing zones of the country were affected becoming moderately unproductive, however the industry was being maintained primarily by the contribution of the Southern fishing zone.

Early October 2001 the hurricane Iris struck the southern coastal areas of Belize causing significant economic damage to the fishing communities destroying fishing equipment and infrastructures. The presence of hurricane Iris caused the Southern fishing zone to become non productive for a few months causing a 22 percent decrease in production compared to the previous year.

Fishery-dependent data

Production estimates, mainly landing data, have been recorded since 1932, but only imprecise and unsystematic information on fishing effort (fishing days or effective use of fishing gears) has been available. Supplementary data were collected at the Cooperatives.

Lobster production by the cooperatives for 2001

In 2001 the Northern, National, Placencia and Caribena Fishers Cooperatives produced 49.8 percent, 42.8 percent, 6 percent and 1.3 percent of all lobster tails, respectively (Fig. 3). In 1989 some of the cooperatives started exporting lobster head meat as added value to lobster, since then there has been a yearly increase in production, however in 2001 there was a decrease of 11 percent in production compared to the season of 2000.

Figure 3. Lobster production by cooperatives in 2001

At the end of 2001 there was 31.7 percent decrease in export of tails by weight as compared to the year of 2000 (Table 2 and Fig. 4).

Table 2. Lobster export figures in tonnes for 1998-2001






Lobster tail





Lobster head meat





Figure 4. Lobster exports, tails in tonnes and head meat in kg, 1998-2001

Data on local sales in 2001 are presented in Table 3.

Table 3. Local sales by Cooperatives in 2001


Whole lobster kg

Lobster head meat kg


1 418.95

2 381.8


2 703.2

2 181.4 kg





1 856.9



6 286.25

5 067.70

Fishery-independent data

A tagging study was conducted to estimate growth and movement. Morphometric analysis of samples taken at several landing sites was conducted a few years later. More recently, puerulus collectors have been deployed to study lobster post larvae.

Currently there is no fishery independent data on spiny lobsters collected by or supplied to the Department of Fisheries on a continuous basis. However, studies have been conducted on lobster at certain areas such as Glovers Reef Marine Reserve where densities of different size classes of spiny lobster was determined to be linked to the area size distribution of primary benthos habitats. The fore reef and walls of the fringing reef were exclusively occupied by adults, whereas both adults and juveniles sheltered on shallow patch reefs in the lagoon.

Status of the Spiny Lobster Resource[10]

Recently unprocessed data on catch and effort (1991-1997) were recovered in order to reconstruct a series of catch per unit of effort as an index of abundance (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Reconstructed data on catch in kg per trap, Belize, 1960-1997

A simple application of a production model, under the present conditions, shows a Maximum Sustainable Yield of 700 tonnes (whole weight) moving in an interval between 550 and 825 tonnes according to the behaviour of yearly recruitment.

A programme to transform the information of industrial size composition into carapace length was developed to obtain the length composition of the catches. The results obtained indicate that nearly 70 percent of the catch consists of individuals of an age of 2 and 3 years, while 10 percent of the reported catch consists of undersized lobsters. Therefore there is a need to enforce control of the minimum legal size, eliminating the illegal landings of undersized lobsters.

A systematic collection of catch and effort as well as biological data needs to be established urgently, since this is the only way to do a comprehensive stock assessment exercise, which is needed for the provision of management advice.

Social and Economic Status and Importance of the Fisheries

It was reported in 2000 that the fishing industry was utilizing over 62 000 lobster traps valued at US$25 per trap. While at the same time there were 2 470 shades deployed at various fishing zones at a value of US$15 per shade. In addition 100 used vehicle tires were recorded being used for fishing lobster at a value unknown because most of the tires are obtained as waste at mechanics shops. The report also included that over 730 hook sticks were used to catch lobster by diving.

The fishing industry is a major contributor to the Belizean economy, primarily in foreign exchange earnings. Fishing activities in Belize have traditionally revolved around the lobster and conch fisheries. The fishing industry provides direct employment to over 3 000 registered fishers, and to over 500 processing and market workers.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Belize for 2001 was Bz$941 748 000 (US$470 874 000). The whole fisheries sector ranks as the third foreign exchange earner in the country and in 2001 it has contributed 7.2 percent to the GDP, of which the lobster fishery contributed 1.37 percent.

Conclusions and Recommendations

At the first lobster workshop the analysed data from different countries from the region (Belize, Mexico and South-western Cuba) indicated that the lobster fishery may be fully exploited, and that in the absence of more information an increase in fishing effort was not recommended. It was recommended for Belize to establish an effective management and data collection programme in order to have reliable data to conduct a stock assessment of the lobster population.

Monitoring programmes

After the development of a fishery, a permanent and lower level system of data collection should be implemented to monitor the "health" of the fishery and to determine the effectiveness or otherwise of management strategies. Catch and fishing effort data are the basic data requirements, and these may be supplemented by the collection of length-frequency data. When monitoring fishing effort, inventories of boats, fishing gear and fishing methods used in the fishery must be maintained and continually updated.

The monitoring programme for the lobster fishery in Belize is not consistent and many of the previously implanted monitoring approaches have progressed to a dormant stage. Very little information is obtained at the landing sites and at the investigated fields. Even though the lobster fishery is the most important marine artisanal fishery in Belize, support and political will has gradually degraded placing the fishery to be managed inefficiently and weakening the very few existing management tools. It is very important and critical to institute a monitoring programme and secure its longer existence in order to be able to eventually effectively evaluate the lobster fishery for the sustainable existence of the fishery. With this in mind and knowing the potential of the cooperatives in contributing to the monitoring programme it is recommended to engage the fishers cooperatives in collecting the required data. This will facilitate the Belize Fisheries Department to successfully identify and rectify necessary adjustments on the fishery management strategies when needed.

Registration and licensing

The implementation of a licensing system is key management tool that allows managers to be able to quantitatively obtain the fishing effort and be in a position to take decisions on the fishery.

Presently Belize has a registration and licensing programme, however many faults exist and this need to be address in order to be in position as mentioned above. The need to capture real and accurate information is vital while the completion of the data sheets by the individual fishers is necessary. It is recommended that the licensing and registration process and system be re-enforced considerably.

Adaptive management

An adaptive management approach provides the opportunity to place fisheries management on a more scientific basis. Each substock can be regarded as an experimental unit, in which alternative strategies can be applied. Monitoring the biological and economic responses to each experimental condition will facilitate the determination of an optimum strategy. Once the licensing and registration system is effective adaptive management should be applied in the Belize lobster fishery.

The adaptive management approach is an uncertainty strategy that provides fundamental indices for managers depicting the consequences of certain actions taken. The approach would have to be implemented periodically so as to obtain best results.

One approach to obtain a reduction of fishing pressure could be to decrease the number of licensed fishers, by reallocating the part-time fishers and granting exclusive licenses to full-time lobster fishers only. This should reduce fishing pressure and probably cause an increase or a decrease in production, depending on the number of traps, shades or "casitas" deployed by the remaining fishers. It would be necessary to institute a monitoring programme for CPUE data that would indicate the status of the lobster fishery.

Another approach could be to increase licence fees thus reducing fishing pressure by eliminating the part-time fishers who are not willing to pay the fee. This strategy would give the part-time fishers a voluntary option to leave the fishery and venture into other economical activities. Also in this case a monitoring programme must be implemented to demonstrate the effect it would have on the lobster fishery.

Management of marine reserves

Belize has in the past, and is presently undertaking an approach to manage its fisheries resources by establishing a number of marine reserves. These areas are established based on many criteria such as biodiversity of marine species, overfishing of banks or areas, attraction for tourism and many others. However, the continuous establishment of new marine reserves and parks has caused most fishers to be against this approach. Possible explanations for that would be a lack of knowledge of the concept and not being able to see the socio-economic benefits. The question is: What would the fishers gain from the establishment of marine reserves?

An important criterion of the management plan of all marine reserves in Belize is monitoring and assessment of the biodiversity of marine fauna and flora within the zone. However, the management policies of many marine reserves do not target monitoring marine fauna or flora at the immediate surroundings of the reserves as an approach to establish quantitative differences in population abundance inside and outside the reserves, to serve as stock indices. In addition many of the marine reserves have not undertaken such tasks and probably will not until adequate support is acquired.

It should be noted that marine reserves usually do have a positive impact on the marine ecosystem since they are serving as a reserve or bank for many fish stocks, which would replenish over-harvested stocks in fishing zones. In Belize the establishment of marine reserves has affected many lobster fishers, who have not readily seen the eventual long-term economic gains. It would be recommended to quantify and integrate monitoring programmes to determine what would be the benefit of establishment marine reserves especially for the lobster industry.

Summary of recommendations and conclusions


Richards, 2001. National report on the spiny lobster fishery in Belize. FAO Fishery Report No. 619: 168-174.


[8] Fisheries Department, P.O. Box 148, Belize City, Belize, E-mail: [email protected].
[9] One US Dollar ($US) is equal to two Belize Dollar (Bz$).
[10] Contributed by M.Sc. Maria Estela de Leon Gonzalez (CIP, Cuba).
[11] Full references not available in original manuscript (Ed.).

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page