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            Tuesday, October 16, 2007

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HUGE Gaffed Lobster, 1960's
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A HUGE lobster caught and gaffed while swimming out to the Reef, 1970's. I’ll forever remember this lobster as each morning I’d swim the 1/2 mile to the gap in the reef, free dive 40’ (ear drums bursting) to gaff my favourite breakfast, fresh Avocado stuffed with Lobster and salads- naturally topped off with Marie’s hot sauce

You know you have been to San Pedro if you remember...
Army House (Coral Lodge)
Hurricane Hattie and the room removed from what is now once again a beautiful church
The Cooks from Texas..
Peter and Peggy Handcock
The Kruueger’s (El Pescador’)
Sergeant Smith ‘Smithy’ San Pedrano’s only and unarmed Constable
The Canadian’s pub Mr. Alan Foreman, R.I.P.
Ena Varela Guerrero
Maria’s hot sauce...

My GB Army Teeshirt.. it is now in a glass case too ensure Longevity (if i laundered it would fall to pieces) These tee-shirts are now very rare and in much demand in GB Army circles. Should you wish any ‘deciphering’ please ask away.. e.g. many outside Army circles do not know a ‘stim’ is a soda or ‘Stimulate.’ ‘Son of C’ being the Belize Renowned C -Company of the 3rd. Battalion of the Queen’s Regiment.

I was the ‘resident’ Great Britain Soldier.. we had no golf cart’s, one telephone by Sergeant Smith’s ‘jail’ (the only unarmed policeman) everyone knew everybody and my job was to call in Harrier jump jets and Puma helicopters to terrify the San Pedrano’s & cause the kids to jump with joy.. even got the kids helicopter rides around Ambergris Caye & distributed Great Britain Army rations.. where the oatmeal blocks were in high demand as were the tins of Chocolate. That year was 1977.

I swam to the reef’s ‘Cut’ and back everyday for my breakfast omelette to supplement my Military rations. Four of us enjoyed this one for lunch after I would swim the 1/2 mile to the reef, dove 35 feet to gaff this beauty- then swim 1/2 mile back to main pier near Victoria Hotel

My Daily Breakfast in an omellette, San Pedro Island

I am the NCO/Island Survival Instructor program (Read Guatamala insurgency)

As a young gringo whilst serving San Pedro, I’d foot patrol to Xcalak. The Mexican Military I eventually fooled where they monitored the landing dock as I occasionally borrowed a motorized skiff rather than walk.

I’d be sweating (just a little) when pulling up to the heavily armed Mexican Army as beneath the poncho on the floor of the boat I had a Sterling Sub Machine Gun and two sawn off shotguns.. another reason the harriers would give me close ground support... all is not always as it appears, lol

Here is where RSM Bill Marshall screamed at me I had gone native, lol Now do I look like I am not a well fashioned fighting british soldier of the queen ?

I was ‘This close’ to being shot as a spy, as I had drawn maps of Tanks and Armored personnel carriers and Soldiers Quarters- which were targeted by the RAF Harriers were I Captured.

I had completed my will and authorized my electronic locator to bomb me.

The San Pedrano’s were TOTALLY unaware but I have now been released from the "official Secrets act!"

Although near the end of my life Marty, I do tell the people of Belize we loved you all so much- we would give our lives.

Also, as a Section Commander in the mainland Sabun Jungle - my patrols ambushed many insurgents, rather than shoot them.. we took their weapons, gave them a good kick in the Butt and sent them home. They were lucky!

The 2i/c Major Andrew Cowing (right) often visited San Pedro. He was my direct boss and enjoyed our GB Army Military operations in Northern Ambergris Caye. We became close friends later in life when he was supporting the Sultan-of-Oman and myself was operating next door in Saudi Arabia. Major Cowing was later killed in Action (KIA)

Occasionally, my patrol found the skeletons of long lost British Soldiers long eaten away by Army Ants. We buried them on the spot but carried their weapons back to base after a six week patrol. I was stationed on Ambergris Caye 1977 (exactly opposite the Church damaged in Hattie. small population.. but also as during that time patrolling on foot North during military excursions.. I never ever saw human traffic..

I’m sure you are aware that even though Belize is now Independant, the British Army, Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy- shall ensure supporting the BDF.

I crossed the cut with weapons and equipment.. (en route to Xcalak) I’d await low tide to avoid a thorough soaking) However- when Lt. Colonel Andrew Cowing- my Regimental Commanding officer visited for a ‘Gander’ GB Squaddie talk for reconnaissance a Good Samaritan.. a San Pedrano loaned me a skiff with outboard motor and to my delight (not being a sailor) I successfully navigated the WESTERN Ambergris North (taking a break on Deer Caye en Route) Turning EAST through this tiny channel.. hiding the skiff in the bush and led my Commander North to further Recce Xcalak. Loved my time alone on foot patrols to Xcalak which is when the harriers were tasked to give me Combat Air Patrol (CAP) to warn off unwanted attention.. thus the reason I’d always be seen with radio equipment... this survival alone were some of the best experiences of my life.. I’m happy to be able to share them to the very place such soldiering was enacted.

That's how I got pass the enemy' (Mexico swore to take Ambergris Caye, should Guatamala take Belize. True story. I was helped from my canoe by the armed Mexican army as they thought I was merely a gringo kid. Underneath the poncho- bottom of canoe, I had a Sterling SMG and 2 Shotguns... funny, eh ? My 'function' was to monitor Military increased presence. No one living knows this story, (Bn. 2i/c passed away who sent me) GREAT times - rvrn the RSM (Bill Marshall) went nuts "Boston, you've gone native, I'll get that 'air off you. He never did (lol) I ended up in Saudi Arabia for the Americans - thus here I am!

You must have thought you had died and gone to heaven when they gave you that job!

I WAS dying (caught hep C in Sabun jungle on patrol) and when casavacked via VC-10 to Brize Norton, engine fell off (literally) and I was offered the 'cushy posting' doesn't get any better, I'm a jammy sod ?

The gentleman to your right from my point of view is the late Mr. Marciano Salazar. He was the one with probaly the only Land Rover on the island in those days.

The late Mr. Peter Hancock had a background in Communications.. oh the rows we had regarding using the Ionosphere for bouncing Morse code high frequency (HF) around the planet. Trekking North to Xcalak on my biweekly foot patrols- I’d always stop off for a cuppa tea courtesy of Ms. Peggy and an exciting ‘exchange’ with Mr. Peter.. he once banned me. It’s little known.. I thought I’d retire after leaving the Army. I was invited by the Kruger’s (El Pescador) to manage their hotel. After 4-6 months I knew I would not cope with such a deceleration from a rather eventful Soldiering life.. so I ran off to Saudi Arabia for 2 years.

I like that “the coconut wireless” as my other job on the island was Wireless Operator (a reason I never had to line up for the only phone and why I have sometimes referred the RAF Puma helicopters using my radio mast as a target with their retractable undercarriage- we sure had fun.. like the harrier pilot landing to visit his girlfriend hound.

Oh.. and the RAF giant C130- Hercules (troop carrier configuration) buzzing me on the Fido’s jetty as a gesture of thanks - for hosting them a week whilst one of their four rolls Royce engine’s had to be replaced via RAF prize Norton, (they issued me a red smoke canister to aim at me) and flew at me 30 feet over my head early in the morning when everyone on the island.. Berlitz included, RIP- was still suffering from the previous nocturnal events ... that was a staged photo op for me as these fine guys asked what favour they could grant and I answered “I love plane’s and I don’t have a photo of your aircraft type.. they resolved THAT issue...

Judy Mernitz: I remember when the Travel Club called Voyager first started coming to Belize. They were the first big jets to fly in. The British soldiers had gun emplacements at the airport and would sight them for target practice. A bit unnerving to say the least!

John William Boston: Judy we also used radar guided ground-to-air missile systems ... that might have been more unnerving- had you known

Nick Pollard: In the late 70s I was spearfishing on a drop off outside English Caye and sighted a huge lobster. I waited until I had a clear shot near its cave. I caught it and it fought to escape - had to hold my spear with both hands. Eventually I got it to English Caye and everyone came to admire it. It weighed in at 13 lbs! It had a big tail that was very heavy which increased the weight drastically. The following week Father Dikeman at SJC Lab embalmed it for me. I had it on display in Brodies show window. Eventually it started falling apart...wish I had taken better care of it.

Joseito Sosa: Many years ago in the 70 a young girl from Placencia went with us to Hunting Caye . On our way she suddenly saw a mobster and to My surprise she immediately jumped over board and when she came up had a huge lobster and I mean huge I know it must have been about 15 to 20 lbs it was surely a creature sadly no one had a camera at the time to have taken a camera. I know she was one of the Eileys family beautiful girl. She was so incredible the anchor even got caught up down below and she went overboard again and loosen it. All I could remember that she was a very athletic person very good in playing soft ball and other sports.

Francis Paul Ripp: In the early 80’s Miss Peggy's house was the only house from Tres Cocos to The Belizean, only a footpath existed.

John William Boston: It was always a prime destination for me, patrolling to Xcalak. Lots of tea from Miss. Peggy.. many energetic conversations with Peter.. always relating to Technology. La Casa was full of treasures and keepsakes. By the time I completed missions in Xcalac (2-3 days) I knew Peter would be recovered from our previous heated discussions (whilst I was traveling North). I would have no further rations remaining- thus the reason I returned to Army House- Coral Lodge.. (and I had already backpacked up 2 x 24 ration packs heading North). The previous discussions would be avoided and we’d discuss less pointed issues.. to be sure we departed in goodwill. My 24 hour ration packs were very popular around San Pedro and the remote areas of Ambergris Caye. I had them delivered (via Royal Air Force Puma Helicopter) as many as I ordered (which were MANY). I rarely ate them as I’d live of the land.. after all, I WAS the Island Survival Instructor to GB Troops.. prior to it apparently becoming a R&R getaway only.

Alan Jackson: This monster was caught in Belize in 1978. That is a 12-inch ruler beside the beast. The fisherman called Fisheries and asked that we come to his house and see it.

John William Boston, Fido's over both shoulders, ‘77. The church was just cement walls was just beginning to build up back then.

Corporal Bob Peterson. A regular guest to Coral Lodge / Army house... I bet few remember my favourite (I adopted many when the Belize Government had ordered them destroyed..) I recall they simply had numbers - this guy was No. 1. Photo by John William Boston

The History of the Lobster Industry in Belize

The first few decades of the twentieth century brought the beginning of Belize’s spiny lobster industry. Belizeans had traditionally rejected lobsters as “trash fish” and made no effort to exploit them. In the early 1920s as the North American lobster industry was declining, a Canadian founded canneries to process lobster tails for export to the US market. The fishermen who sold their lobster tails to them and received only 1cent per pound.

From these tentative beginnings grew a successful lobster industry that produced the country’s most valuable marine export from roughly World War II to present day. With the lobster fishery came the first freezer boat to purchase lobster tails directly from fishermen and transport them to the USA. After World War II buyers sent more vessels with freezers and established processing and cold storage facilities in Belize City, thus permitting full time, year-round lobster production.

The lobster industry had developed sufficiently by the late 1940s and 1950s to attract more full-time fishermen. Lobster was sold to the freezer vessel Betty Jean and the Catalina seaplane, or “flying boat” for 5 cents whole and 7 cents for the tail. The lobster buyers bought on credit, paying the fishermen only when the lobster was sold in the USA. The last time the flying boat was seen in Belize, it was departing with 4000 pounds of lobster caught by the fishermen of Ambergris Caye, for which they have yet to receive payment.

The infamous Catalina seaplane: The lobster industry had developed sufficiently by the late 1940s and 1950s to attract more full-time fishermen. Residents of Ambergris Caye jumped at an alternative to working in the coconut industry. Lobsters were sold to the freezer vessel Betty Jean and the Catalina seaplane, or “flying boat” for 5 cents whole and 7 cents for the tail. The lobster buyers bought on credit, paying the fishermen only when the lobsters were sold in the USA. The last time the flying boat was seen in Belize, it was departing with 4000 pounds of lobster caught by the fishermen of Ambergris Caye, for which they have yet to receive payment.

Lobster was easy to catch in the early days of the industry. A skilful fisherman could catch 300 to 400 lobsters in one day within a mile (1.6 kilometres) of San Pedro. A catch of 1,000 to 2,000 lobster a week was common.

In the early 1950, buyers started to increase payment for lobster; eventually coming to Ambergris Caye to buy directly from the fishermen, paying them from $1.25 to $1.50 per pound.

By the late 1950’s it was becoming evident to Belizean lobster fishermen that the buyers were getting rich off the trade but that the fishermen were not. In 1960, the fishermen of Caye Caulker established the first fishermen’s cooperative in British Honduras (Northern Fishermen’s Cooperative Society). This first cooperative was quickly imitated and in 1963, the second cooperative to become operational was the Caribeña Producers Cooperative Society Limited of Ambergris Caye. Lobsters caught by coop members were delivered to the then beachfront home of Seferino Paz (in front of the site of today’s Fido’s Bar). Prisiliano “Nanito” Gomez and Seferino Paz would receive the lobsters, remove the heads, weigh the lobsters and then place them in coolers. Each fisherman delivering lobster was given a receipt redeemable at the Caribeña office, then located under the raised house of founding coop member Felipe Paz (where Cholo’s Bar is today). General Manager Octavio Alamilla and office assistant Elia Aguilar ran the office, made payments and maintained the books. Each Saturday, Seferino Paz transported lobsters to Belize City on his sail boat La Helen and returned with ice. The Caribbean Queen Company processed the lobsters at its plant in Belize City and exported them.

Thanks to a Jesuit priest named Father Marion M. Ganey, the Colony already had a strong credit union movement and several other types of cooperatives, including 16 agricultural producer’ cooperatives, as well as a Department of Cooperatives and Credit Unions that regularly provided training in cooperative formation. Father Ganey had even spoken to some of the fishermen of Cay Caulker about forming a cooperative during the 1950s and had, during the same general period, assisted in the formation of a strong credit union on Ambergris Caye. Father Ganey talked at length with Alfredo Alamilla, San Pedro’s alcalde, about establishing a cooperative in San Pedro. Neither the fishermen of Ambergris Caye or Cay Caulker were yet persuaded.

In the late 1961, several San Pedro fishermen approached the other fishermen of Ambergris Caye in an effort to form a cooperative. Leaders included Alfredo “Fedo” and Octavion “Tabito” Alamilla, Jeminiano “Jemi” Aguilar, Ovidio Guerrero and Tomas, Felipe and Seferino Paz. They had previously tried to stir up interest in a cooperative, but had been defeated by the generations-old tradition of independent fishing or fishing with a small and trusted crew, usually family. Only 20 fishermen initially agreed to form the cooperative and notified the Department of Co-operative of their intention. Butwhen a representative of the Department of Co-operative arrived to explain the government requirements, many of the fishermen were too drunk to attend – thanks to “free” rum provided by the single owner of the two companies then purchasing lobster from Ambergris Caye for export to the USA.

Nevertheless, a cooperative was organized in 1962, the first organizational meeting taking place on July 15th in a patch of grass between Daddy’s Club and Blake House. The first Board of Directors elected at the organizational meeting were Jeminiano Aguilar, President; Allan Forman, Vice President; Octavio Alamilla, Secretary; Wilfrido “Fido” Nuñez, Treasurer; and Seferino Paz, Director. Octavio Alamilla served as General Manager, as well as Board Secretary, When Caribeña built a processing plant a short time later, Prisiliano Gomez was hired as the first Plant Manager. Members’ shares were sold for $60 apiece. Further meetings were held to work out details and, after 8 months, $1,800 had been collected. The group was assisted by Peter Hancock, an American engineer who had immigrated to Ambergris Caye in the 1950s and ran a coconut walk north of San Pedro. Among other activities, he drafted the cooperative’s by-laws and consulted with government officials, in part because the organizers were not comfortable with their English skills. Additional fishermen were attracted to the cooperative because of their respect for Hancock and the founders.

Caribeña Producers Cooperative Society Limited was at last registered in March of 1963 with a roll of 50 members.

Caribeña first sought to sell its member’ lobsters to a small marine products company headed by Apolonio Alamilla, but were unsuccessful. The cooperative then conclude an arrangement with the Caribbean Queen company. Some cooperative members, such as Seferino and Felipe Paz, pledged their own lands and other property as collateral for Caribeña’s working capital loans, used to purchase lobster from coop members.

Caribeña couldn’t “reap huge profits from their labours” until they actually entered the more lucrative parts of the industry – processing and exporting – formerly operated by their “exploiters.” To do so, of course, they had to build processing plants and other facilities, hire workers, arrange for sales agents in the USA and pay for shipment of their product.

Caribeña’s first attempt to finance its entrance into the processing and exporting business was to seek funding from the Caribbean Queen Company for a freezer plant. Caribbean Queen agreed, but only if the plant were built in Belize City, where a plant had been built in 1962 by the Caye Caulker cooperative. Caribeña’s members were insistent that the plant be built on Ambergris Caye. They ceased doing business with the Caribbean Queen Company and instead sold their lobster to Apolonio Alamilla, with whom they could by then conclude a deal.

By 1965, Caribeña was the largest cooperative with 152 members. Thanks to Alexander A. Hunter, Minister of Natural Resources, Commerce and Industry (Tourism, Agriculture, Fisheries and Archaeology), all cooperatives were aided greatly by the government’s decision to give export quotas for lobster and other marine products only to cooperatives, thus eliminating their foreign competition.

Apolonio Alamilla also agreed to finance a freezer plant for Caribeña, but he too insisted on a Belize City location, the traditional fish market and centre for processing and exporting of marine products. Again, Caribeña insisted on an Ambergris Caye location. Caribeña members themselves, along with the entire community of San Pedro, began to clear a site in San Pedro belonging to the Blakes and construct a building, donating their labour and working under the supervision of a contractor paid from Caribeña slim revenues.

In early 1965, Jim Blake introduced on Adam Smith to Caribeña. Smith, an American based in Miami, operated a big meat packing company in Honduras and a small lobster business in the Bay Islands. Apparently, Smith’s boats travelling from the Bay Islands to Miami were carrying too few lobsters to make the trip profitable. Smith was interested in picking up additional lobsters from Caribeña. Caribeña told Smith they would provide him the lobsters he needed if he would finance their proposed plant.

Smith and Caribeña signed a 5-year contract in which Caribeña agreed to sell its lobster to Smith exclusively, while Smith agreed to provide the generators, compressors, refrigeration equipment, building materials and other items needed to complete the plant and to recoup his investment by withholding 20% of the Caribeña lobster’ value. The plant was scheduled to be completed by the start of the 1964-1965 lobster season, but Smith agreed to send a processing boat if its completion was delayed. Although the plant was completed on schedule, the government of the Colony was reluctant to issue a license for its operation for fear of mechanical failure that would cause product spoilage before a repairman could arrive from the mainland. The license was ultimately issued, however.

For more on the history of lobster fishing in Belize, click here!

By Mito Paz, Coordinator (NICH)

Here’s the Credtura, Captain Berliez’s 27’ boat loaned to me, the Resident San Pedro Soldier. I’m sailing an officer from my Queens Regiment, looks like inside the Reef.

First and last photographs by John William Boston
(Still missing San Pedro. Been back 7 times since Military Service at Army House 'Coral Lodge' (Opposite the Church)              
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