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Fisherman draws over $150,000 in fines for possession of prohibited and endangered fish; claims he was desperate to pay outstanding school fees

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Posted: Tuesday, June 7, 2022. 9:56 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: A fisherman from Ladyville, Belize District, must pay more than $150,000 in fines for possession of various prohibited and endangered fish species – and be thankful it isn’t more.

38-year-old Leroy Samuel Ruiz, of Heron Street, Ladyville, was jointly charged with Belize City resident Denielle Solis and Vista del Mar resident Wilbert Rivas with five fisheries-related offences: possession of two Nassau grouper; 68 filleted fish without skin patches; 12 angelfish, 12 triggerfish and 76 parrotfish, all of which are prohibited from capture.

In court Ruiz, who has been fishing for 20 years, told the Magistrate that he knew what he did was wrong, but claimed he was a little desperate, saying he was only thinking about his children’s school fees which are outstanding.

Ruiz could have been looking at a maximum of $150,000 in fines but the Magistrate in her discretion considered that this was his first offence and set the penalties at $10,000 on each charge for a total of $50,000 plus cost of court.

But the additional penalties for each product she could do nothing about – $100 for the grouper; $3,400 for the fillet fish; $12,000 each for the angelfish and triggerfish and $76,000 – $1,000 each – for the parrot fish, to a grand total of $103,500.

In all, Ruiz must find $153,500 plus $25 cost of court to pay to the Magistrate’s Court, which goes to the Government. The fines are due starting on September 30 and ending on December 31, 2022. If he defaults, he faces nine months’ imprisonment on the main charges and “distress” – the legal term for the procedure of selling off items of value to pay the fines – on the additional penalties. Even if he winds up in prison, it was pointed out, for the main charges on which he was fined, the additional penalties of over $103,000 must still be paid, in full, and cannot be converted to jail time.

The bust was made on June 5 aboard a vessel named Dahlin, a mile southeast of Hat Caye in the Lighthouse Reef Atoll.

The other accused were released after Ruiz took the fall.

 

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