Fisheries Fieldwork in Belize – Sophie Jones

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When I stepped off the plane in Belize, the heat and humidity (along with the reality of what I was there to do) hit me like a wall- it was the middle of the dry season after all. I was here to research fishermen’s attitudes to a new fishing policy as part of my MSc research project. This involved carrying out interviews with fishermen across the country. I’d been planning the trip for five months (which also meant five months of stressing over ever little detail, from where I would stay to whether fishermen would want to talk to me for my research). My journey had started with two trains followed by three airplanes and an overnight stay in Texas to get me to Punta Gorda, a small fishing town in southern Belize.

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The last plane ride was an adventure in the tiny aircraft above. There was only room for about 10-15 passengers and it was amazing to be able to see the pilots at work for once! The scenery across the sea and the jungle was absolutely spectacular too.

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I was also here to work in collaboration with a local environmental non-governmental organisation that manages a marine reserve in southern Belize. Although I have been to Belize several years ago on holiday, it was pretty daunting to coordinate my research project from here in the UK. The local organisation helped me with logistics and introduced me to fishermen to interview. I even got to spend a night at the ranger station (below) in the middle of the marine reserve, where the rangers taught me local fishing practices. I caught my first fish and learned how to clean and gut it!

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After carrying out interviews in the south, I travelled by bus to northern fishing communities to interview more fishermen. The bus ride was certainly an adventure on a half-paved road with buckets of fish sloshing around in the back. Although Belize has a population similar to that of Leicester, there are over 10 cultures present. The cultural and ecological histories mean that fishing practices in the north are vastly different from the south and I could almost have been on opposite sides of the world as I travelled the length of the country!

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Overall, I had a fabulous time and really enjoyed hearing about fishermen’s experiences. One of the biggest lessons from the trip is that fieldwork never goes as expected- you just have to keep an open mind and be flexible. It’s also important to be prepared for any eventuality and have a back-up plan (and a second one too wouldn’t hurt). With my first taste of social science fieldwork, I definitely hope to have another opportunity for such research again. I would really like to thank the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund for helping me undertake such an amazing journey.

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