Strong ties between fly fishers lead to MSU, Belize collaboration
BOZEMAN – Strong connections between fly fishers in southwest Montana and Central America have led to new research at Montana State University.
The project is focused on conch, a sea snail that’s known for its delectable meat and large shell. The research is spearheaded by one of the managers of Turneffe Flats Resort who is working on his master’s degree in fish and wildlife management at MSU and could someday – if his fans are right – become prime minister of his country, Belize.
Alex Anderson, 27, not only served two years as student body president at the University of Belize, but he helped drive two major projects that promote conservation in this country along the Caribbean Sea. One created Belize’s largest marine reserve. The other led to the protection of bonefish, permit and tarpon as catch-and-release species in Belize. Anderson comes from a family of fly fishing guides and worked seven years at the internationally known Turneffe Flats Resort. Although he grew up in Cotton Tree, a town of 600 people and three streets, he is known all over Belize.
“There are a little over 300,000 people in the country, and 200,000 know Alex,” said his faculty adviser, Al Zale, leader of the Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit in MSU’s Department of Ecology.
Anderson also has a heart for Belize, and it’s currently beating for people who are trying to make a living selling conch.
The conch industry in Belize supports about 2,800 fishermen and 10,000 others, but it’s threatened by over-fishing, Anderson said. From 2004 to 2009, the conch harvest from Turneffe Atoll declined by more than half.