King Solomon’s Court
A century old maritime border dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras receives a Solomon decision from Hague. Bay Islands fishermen feel they should have the entire baby.

June 1st, 2008
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private]

Map of the territory divided between Honduras and Nicaragua.

Map of the territory divided between Honduras and Nicaragua.

International Court of Justice in Hague intervened and cut the disputed maritime territory roughly in half. No one is happy. But while the Nicaraguan government has already begun patrolling its maritime territory awarded in Hague, Honduras has no military presence in their area and fishermen feel left to their own devices.

Least happy in the situation might be owners of five Bay Islands registered fishing vessels which were seized by the Nicaraguan navy. The Honduran government didn’t bother to tell its fishermen that it gave up an option to challenge the Hague verdict, nor to wait for the result of another dispute that Nicaragua has with Columbia east of the 80th parallel. In March Nicaragua began issuing fishing permits for the territory that Bay Islands fishermen used since 1960s.

On April 13, a 65′ Honduran registered fishing vessel “Fish Hawk” was stopped by the Nicaraguan Navy and towed to the Nicaraguan port of Bluefields. The boat is worth $225,000 and belongs to Flying Fish, a fish plant and exporter based on Roatan.

Nine Honduran fishermen working on the Flying Fish vessel were detained. “It was the job of the Honduran government to get them out and they have done absolutely nothing,” said Russ Summerell, general manager of Flying Fish. After a ten day detention and $2,500 payment covering their stay in Bluefields the crew was released and returned to Roatan.

Flying Fish boats have been fishing the 18,300 sq km area for snapper since 1989 and Summerell estimates that the company will loose around 20% or 200,000 Lbs. of their catch in 2008. While the Fish Hawk has been dedicated exclusively to catching red snapper, the biggest loss will come to the Honduran lobster industry. Flying Fish estimates that 50%, 1.5 million pounds or $30 million of lobster will not be caught by Honduras, mostly Bay Island’s fishermen.

The area awarded to Nicaragua is one of the best grounds for fishing lobster Honduras had, and 7,500 people live off the industry in the country. “The problem will begin when in July the lobster season starts,” said Summerell.

180 Honduran boats have lobster catching licenses and while the government has made suggestions that it would buy back some of the lobster boats, this will not take place in 2008. Summerell predicts conflict between boat captains over access to the best fishing sports, and over-fishing of the remaining Honduran waters will be the result.

Fish Hawk, along with Mister Gibson, Shooting Star, Captain Thuhai and Miss Yolani, all Guanaja owned boats, have been detained by Nicaraguan authorities. So far only Captain Thuhai was released, but release of Fish Hawk is expected within weeks. [/private]

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