25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE   BY ANGEL NUÑEZ

Fishermen's Lives


T
wenty five years ago or perhaps 35, there were no tourist guides in San Pedro, only fishermen. I wonder if the younger generation or those from abroad really understand what it took to be a full time fisherman.

To begin with, there were different types of fishermen. The "hand line" fisherman would wake up very early to go to some white spot near the beach somewhere between Ramon's Village and Royal Palm to catch sardines, which was the favorite bait. He would then proceed to his favorite area and try here and there until a lucky spot was located. Early mornings.as well as late evenings were good fishing times. Nighttime fishing was slower, but usually the best time for the larger catches and the larger fisherman tales. Fish would be kept alive in a "vivero", which was in actuality a floating aquarium. An old canoe cut in half and covered at the top served as an excellent "vivero." Next morning the product would be sold to the public at 10 or 15 cents per bundle of some 5 fishes. Mullets were 3 for 25 cents and were considered a prized fish. If the catch was large, some fish would be cleaned and "corned" (preserved with salt and dried in the sun). The village people loved to buy from the "viveros" and boasted that their breakfast was so fresh that the fish were still flopping their tails in the frying pan. Fried fish for breakfast? Yes, and for lunch and supper too!

The next type of fisherman used the "seine net" method.They would throw and pull in their nets in known areas where school of fishes came in to spawn. Their catch was usually stored in large "wells" inside the fishing boats. A well could be as large as 4 feet by 8 feet and 3 feet deep and could hold several hundreds of small fish. These were usually taken to Belize City or Corozal Town to be sold at the market for about 25 cents per bundle of 4 to 5 fishes. Round trip by sail was usually 3 days, but for $100 it was well worth the hardships. A large Jew fish sold in chunks netted an extra 10 dollars, and a turtle, which sold at 10 cents per pound, yielded another 10 dollars.

The third kind of fisherman had the "lobster traps" as well as the fish traps built along the beach. just prior to the Caribeña Fishing Cooperative, lobster was yielding 7 cents per pound of whole lobster. Fish from the wire traps would be sold in bulk to the boat owners who made frequent trips to Belize City and Corozal Town. Most men opted to this type of fishing which was considered the easiest and the most productive. During the cold season in December and when lobsters were running, a fish trap yielded an average of 300 lobsters per day and when snapper was on the run, one night's catch could amount to some SO dozens, which could fill 2 wells for 2 boat owners.

Yet another popular kind of fishing which mostly attracted the young and daring was the "skin diving" method. Men dived near the island and a catch of 10 lobsters per day was a good average. Others ventured to Half Moon or Glover' Reef or Turneffe for a 15 day trip equipped with enormous ice boxes and after grueling adventure of bathing only in salt water and no washing of hair for 15 days It was a sure 1400 pounds per boat of 4 to 5 men.

Lobster then sold at 40 cents per pound of tails. And when lobster was a bit scarce, the "skin diver" opted to spear fishing using the Hawaiian sling and putting his life at the risk of a shark encounter.

One Belizean, Jim Kijano, and one San Pedrano, Wilber Marin, are the only 2 skin divers I have known that were bitten by sharks. Jim lost half of his foot and Wilber Marin had his hands chewed up when surfacing with a grouper he had just speared.

The life of a fisherman was one filled with adventure and patience. It seemed a difficult job, but one that provided good dividends. It is a dying practice today, as we see mostly sport fishing that is neither daring nor adventurous. It's all done for the camera and $150 U.S. per day.

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