Strong ties between fly fishers lead to MSU, Belize collaboration

From Montana State University News

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.

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spearinglionfish

The fight to combat the invasive lionfish (which is decimating coral reef fish domains in the Caribbean) took another step in the right direction when the Cayman Islands Tourism Association announced a new lionfish-spearing contest that doubles as a publicity push to increase demand for the fish from local restaurants – Restaurants And Watersports Operators To Partner For Major Lionfish Culling Effort.The tournament, planned for April 26 – 27 on Grand Cayman Island by grocer Foster Food Market , also involves local water sports outfitters.

We’ve blogged about the lionfish plague a lot, and recently, about our own meager efforts to jump start a new craze for lionfish cuisine. But this moves the effort to an entirely new level. Yeah! Go (away) lionfish!!

‘Beautiful, healthy reefs are critical to our dive tourism in the Cayman Islands,’ states Jane van der Bol, executive director for the Cayman Islands Tourism Association ‘By pairing watersports operators and their clients with local restaurants that want to serve lionfish, this event aims to create a self-fulfilling supply and demand situation for this delicious fish. In the process, Cayman’s marine environment benefits!’

We have a resident very-hard-to-catch permit that we see snorkeling near our island all of the time. Fishermen go crazy trying to catch him… well, on one of the last trips of the season Jeff Griswold of North Bend, Washington caught him and he’s got photos to prove it! Jeff came in December of 2010 on our Adventure Island at Glover’s Reef trip, and then came back again 5 months later. I guess that permit just swimming around loose was bugging him! It’s catch-and-release only at the Glover’s Reef National Marine Reserve, so he’s still there swimming around if any of you want to try your hand at him.

Fishing for permit in Belize

Permit fishing in Belize