Francisco “Fashico” Arceo - the “master of fishing”

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 17, No. 11            March 15, 2007

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Fashico is locally known by many as the "master of fishing" and is a true fisherman of Our Belize Community.

Change is inevitable and as the days go by, people can not help but notice the changes going on in their surroundings. Belize is no longer the same Belize that people knew over 20 years ago, let alone 10. Development has been a huge factor and tourist destinations within the country see the biggest differences; San Pedro is no exception. However, one thing on the island remains the same, even as the years go by, and that is the importance of the Caribbean Sea to the livelihood of families, not only on the island but countrywide.

    At one time, the inhabitants of this small island depended on the coconut industry as their main source of income. In order to sell their products the sea served as the only transportation route to Belize City and other parts of the country. As this industry declined, the fishing industry flourished, followed by the current-day tourism industry. Without a doubt, the main factor in all these industries is the sea. This week, The San Pedro Sun proudly introduces a man that to this day enjoys the sea – Mr. Francisco “Fashico” Arceo.

    Susana Salazar and Eulogio Arceo arrived on Belizean soil fleeing from the revolt that the Caste War brought. The couple uprooted their family and arrived in San Pedro where Eulogio worked in the coconut plantations on the island. Soon they welcomed their son, Francisco “Fashico” Arceo to the family. Fashico grew up like all island children, playing in the cool Caribbean waters alongside his five brothers (one deceased) and one sister (deceased).

    Fashico attended San Pedro Roman Catholic School but at a very early age knew that schooling was not for him. Instead, Fashico enjoyed sitting by the beachside with notebook in hand, drawing the sailboats passing by. He was very good in his portraits and paintings, so much so that people believed that he would become an artist. Fashico was able to bring his artwork to life and drew anything from landscapes to people. “At that time, village life was very laid back. There were only about 50 houses on the island; about 20 were wood while the rest were thatch with dirt floor. There was not much to do and the profession everyone went into was fishing, and that is what I did,” he commented.

    After trying the coconut industry which was his father’s livelihood, Fashico knew that that was not for him. Instead he began scale fishing (a type of net fishing) and using fish traps with a few of his friends. They would just go out and fish close to the reef and come home with, literally, boat loads of fish. “We would only have to be out there for less than three hours and our boat was full. Now you go out for three hours and you are lucky to catch a few. They are still out there but you have to know where to look. It is the same way with the lobster. My mother used to go and sit by the Boca del Rio Park, now at that time there was nothing there just mangroves, sit by the water’s edge and handpick the lobster from the grass beds.”

    Fashico met and wed the love of his life, Vilma Forman (deceased) and the couple has 12 children: Tabito, Panny, Neria, Mercie, Shelly, Omar, Martha, Susana, Lisa, Vicky, Patty and Elito.

    During the time Fashico was fishing, he tried his hand at other skills and traveled with his father to Blue Creek where the duo dabbled in the “chicle” (chewing gum) industry. He would climb the Sapodilla trees and make deep intersecting zigzag cuts in the bark. The milky coagulated juice would run down slowly and be collected in a receptacle at the base. This is what Fashico would collect daily and transport to his bosses who would then export the product. Again, he knew that that was not for him and after three months decided to change his profession. While still at Blue Creek he tried being a logger. Fashico would now wake up early in the morning and instead of fishing, or collecting “chicle,” he would follow the line of cutters to find the best Mahogany trees that would be cut down. After a month, Fashico knew that that was not for him.

    Fashico returned to La Isla Bonita and began working as a fisherman once more. He worked arduously until the time came when he could afford his own boat. A major part of the boat was the fish tank. It was a compartment on the boat filled with water with holes on the top where the live fish were kept. On this compartment, fish were taken to Belize City and Corozal to be sold. Fashico would also transport cured fish (fish that had been salted and left out in the sun to dry as a mode of preservation). Sometimes, instead of money he would barter with traders and return home with sacks of flour, beans, rice and other foodstuffs. Soon enough, he moved up to the bigger boats around the country and would go on month-long expeditions out on the atolls and outer cayes as captain. Again, that was not what he wanted to do, so he returned to his island home and began working at what was the lucrative job at that moment – lobster fishing.

    Lobster fishing was good for Fashico, and he would travel with boats to the atolls for extended periods of time. The times spent out at sea where extended when the local areas began getting fished out. Soon, fishermen began joining forces and formed the San Pedro Co-operative, and Fashico joined them. Soon the men began doing better and better.

    After the lobster industry, Fashico returned to his life, the life he knew and loved – fishing. A new wave came to the island with the opening of the airport. Tourism was now the livelihood of many and Fashico attempted his hand at it. Fashico knew that that was not for him, “I would have to take tourists out early in the morning and spend an amount of time with them. I would have to be catering to them. Sometimes, I would go out in the morning and be back out there in the afternoon. I just couldn’t do it. I loved the freedom that being an independent fisherman provides.” And that is just what he has done. To this day, Fashico can be seen on his dock, the same one he has had for over 40 years by the Old Football Field, bringing his catch in, cleaning and selling it.

    During his free time, Fashico loves lying on his hammock at his dock and sharing his stories with friends. “Every day people come and visit with me. I spent my time close to the water. I could not ask for more,” he ended.

    Fashico made his life on the island. He was born, grew up and enjoyed the life that he attempted to find elsewhere but couldn’t. He tried various professions and finally decided that he could not be happier doing anything more than what he loved – fishing. Fashico is locally known by many as the “master of fishing.” Being able to know the perfect fishing spots, knowing current changes by simply looking at the waters and understanding the weather perfectly are arts that he learnt not at any school but at life. The knowledge he has learned he shared with his children and to anyone that will take the time to sit and listen attentively to his stories. They say, “Wisdom comes with age” and it holds no more truth than in Francisco “Fashico” Arceo, a true fisherman of “Our Belize Community.”
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