25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE   BY ANGEL NUÑEZ

The First Commercial Lobster Buyers


B
efore 1920 it is said that lobsters were considered a pest and a big nuisance by San Pedranos. The waters around Ambergris Caye were infested with lobsters, and fishermen complained when they got trapped in the fishing nets. However, in the 1920's, a foreigner named Captain Foote, started buying lobsters from local fishermen. He used to boil the lobster tails and export them. The price paid was one cent per pound and people knew he was becoming rich at their expense. Consequently, there was some unrest.

To boost up his business, Captain Foote taught the fishermen how to use the lobster traps called "lobster pot", which is still being used in Belize, especially Caye Caulker. Captain Foote taught us the value of lobster and that it could be developed into an export industry. Between 1935 to 1950 what became popular were large boats equipped with deep freezers and frozen lobsters were exported. Prices increased to 2 and 4 and 6 cents per pound. A Belizean, Guy Nord, offered as much as 8 cents. Caribbean Queen Seafood started competing and offering better prices under their local purchasers Alfonso and George Alamilla.

Lobster traps on land during closed lobster season
One of the first San Pedrano lobster buyers was Mr. Efrain Guerrero Sr., who purchased whole lobster in San Pedro and sailed with hundreds of sacks of live lobster to Belize City to sell to the Colony Club, which was owned by an American Ed Devorak. Purchases were made at the beach by the Adventist Church and loaded into his boat "La Ilda". Prices were good at 10 cents and grew briskly to 12, 14 and 18 cents. Fishermen were happy and all started to leave the coconut industry. At the opening of the season, a fisherman easily delivered 100 sacks of whole lobster or about 4,000 pounds. At 18 cents it fetched about $700.00 on opening day. That would fetch him $60,000 today.

It was not until the 1960's that San Pedranos got organized and founded their own fishing cooperative. Louis Syvestre, our Area Representative, was very instrumental with government assistance. Village leaders were Mr. Jeminiano Aguilar, Fedo Alamilla, Seferino Paz Sr., Alan Forman, Tabito Alamilla, Chico Gomez, who was the first manager, and many other local fishermen. With a fleet of 25 different boats, the cooperative reached export sales of 190,000 pounds per year. Those were the good old days.

Nowadays, the fishing cooperative's operations are scaled back to a minimum, with most San Pedranos making their living at sea through the tourism industry. Except for opening day of lobster season, only a few fishermen dedicate themselves to fishing these delectable creatures all season long. The pay, at $20.00 a pound, is great, but there are fewer lobsters now and the job is tough and not for the weak. If you don't believe me, try it out, every day, during good or bad weather, and I'll guarantee that you will appreciate your present job even more.


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