25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE   BY ANGEL NUÑEZ

Sardines or Sprat


A
certain gentleman, twenty five years ago, went to a store and remarked: "I am tired of eating fish everyday. May I have a can of sardines." Indeed at that time people ate so much fish that anything that came in cans was considered a special dish, and not fish for that matter.

However, the topic today is about sardines and not canned goods. Twenty five years ago sardines were plentiful and very large. Why do I say plentiful? Sardines existed in abundance in almost any white spot along the beach. If you went on the main pier by Big Daddy's or any of the five or so piers along the beach, you could make your catch of several dozens of sardines with one fling of the cast net.

People often went looking for sardines to do their hand line fishing from the pier or dory fishing along the beach or lagoon. In the evenings the men went trolling outside the reef in their sailing boats and also used sardines as bait for this sport, or rather livelihood, at that time.

And why did I say that sardines were large? You see four inch sardines today, or even in the cans are fairly small. Twenty five years ago, there were lots of sardines six to seven inches long. To tell you the truth, we used to take these large sardines, clean them and prepare them for frying. It used to be a favorite among children to eat fried sardines with flour tortillas and re-fried beans. They were fried crispy and were edible and delicious right down to the bones. Honestly, no lie.

How do you know where there is a school of sardines? First, where the pelicans were seen diving for fish. And secondly, when you reached a white spot or even a grassy area about two feet deep, you would see ripples on the surface of the water. That was either an indication of sardines, mullet or bonyfish.

Twenty five years ago you could find several sardine spots between the main pier and the Boca del Rio. You did not even have to go by dory You could walk along the beach and catch sprat. Today the poor tourist guides who still use sardines as bait must go several miles and maybe they'll have a good sardine catch. Why is there a decrease in the population and availability? I am no fishing expert, but common sense tells us why.

a) There is too much boat and motor traffic along the beach. The fish are looking for quieter feeding grounds.
b) The mangroves have been chopped, so their breeding grounds have been destroyed.
c) There is over exploitation of sardines.
Twenty five years ago there were 30 fishermen catching them. Today there are 150 fishermen and tourist guides hunting for them.

Today sardines or sprat are still a favorite bait for guides and fisherfolks. They are generally slow swimmers and thus easy to catch. The only difficulty is that they are scarce. Conserve them by not catching too many or more than you need. Try not to use them for commercial purposes.

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