On average, the Belizean fisherman, after leaving home for sea, stays on the waters for about 12 days before returning to his family.
When asked what the life of a fisherman is like, one fisherman quipped, “The life of a fisherman is a wet ass and a hungry belly”.
In 2003, there were reportedly 1,672 licensed fishermen employed by the fishing industry — a number that has no doubt swelled with the entry of newcomers to the trade.
Amandala, in its quest to understand the type of lives these purveyors of a key part of our diet and our culture lead, interacted with two types of fishermen: those who deliver their catch to the various local cooperatives, and independent fishermen, who sell their catch at the Vernon Street market.
Early yesterday morning, Isidro Blanco, 61, a fisherman of Belize City, who has been fishing for 41 years, returned to shore with his crew of seven men, after spending seven days at sea near Half Moon Caye.
Blanco and his crew were in a state of contentment — having sold to the cooperative all the conchs they had brought in.
Blanco said the journey had left him tired, but he has gotten used to the feeling of exhaustion after being out on the seas. His fishing expeditions have enabled him to sustain his family for many years, he said.
“I don’t sell the fish; the fish is for the family,” said Blanco.
Amandala also spoke to Ivanhoe Muñoz, 46, of Sarteneja Village, Corozal District, who, with his crew of six men, was loading his vessel en route to Placencia.
Muñoz told us that after dropping out of school at the age of 17, he turned to farming and fishing as a means of living, but of late has dedicated much of his time to fishing.
Muñoz is not sure when they will return, but said that they are hoping for a good catch, and favorable weather.
Fishing is a risky profession, Muñoz admitted. He said that if he had sufficient funds, he would abandon his life on the seas and invest in farming instead. The thought of quitting has lingered in his mind, he explained, but economic challenges prevent him from doing so.
“We have been faced several times with dangerous situations,” he told Amandala. “Besides from the weather, I remember this time when my friend had catch a fish, and he was wheeling in the fish and suddenly a shark bit his arm and it bled.
“Luckily it was only a scratch, but we wonder sometimes what would happen if we would suffer more serious injuries. We don’t go equipped with aid, and there is no hospital nearby when you are out at sea.” Muñoz explained.
For the trip, Munoz and his crew had to allocate $500.00, for gasoline, and would have to spend an additional amount to purchase provisions.
“It is really rough. The gas is very expensive, and we have to carry with us rice, flour and water.” he informed us.
Jevon Gonzales, 25, a fisherman and light-keeper of Sand Bore Caye, has been fishing for marine products since he was 7 years old, having learned the trade from his grandfather, also a fisherman.
He echoed Munoz’s assessment of the profession as a risky and expensive one. In addition to risks such as major storms, small boat accidents, and capsizing, there is the problem of financing for each trip, he said, mentioning that finding money to purchase gas is always a problem.
“The cost of fuel keeps rising and things are not getting any better, so indeed it is expensive to go on these fishing trips,” said Gonzales.
Nonetheless, with a good catch, and despite fuel expenses, profits can exceed 500 dollars, he said.
It is tough not being around his loved ones, confessed Gonzales, but he has no choice — the bottom line is that money must be made, he said.
Other challenges faced by fishermen were mentioned by Glen Hamilton, 30, a fisherman of Ladyville in the Belize District who sells his catch at the Vernon Street market.
Some of the challenges he listed are competition due to too many newcomers. Also, he said, schools of fish have become scanty in certain areas, forcing him and his crew to relocate.
He, like the other fishermen, also mentioned how difficult it is to leave family behind to venture onto the ocean: “When I leave my family, I don’t know if I will see them again. Out there anything can go wrong, anything can happen to you.” he said.
Also, according to Hamilton, the crew was affected by Hurricane Richard, because their camps down south were destroyed.
Finally, like his fellow fishermen, Hamilton commented on the funds that are needed to finance a fishing trip. On a trip, Hamilton said, at least $320.00 is spent on fuel.
So with skyrocketing fuel prices, what will the price of fish be during Easter? Fishermen at the Vernon Street market say it will go up, and that we can expect those prices to rise from $6.00 a pound to $8.00 a pound.