Lobster traps formed the mainstay of the economy of San Pedro twenty five years ago. Every fisherman depended on lobster traps, and that was about 25 fishermen each owning an average of 300 lobster traps each.
Lobster traps were constructed utilizing mahogany frames covered with pimento sticks. Bamboo strips were used only minimally because it was not abundantly available; only some bamboo drifted on the beaches of Ambergris Caye and were used for lobster pats.
Once constructed, the traps were soaked in the sea for about one week. Then several pieces of rocks were placed inside which served as ballast. The ballast helped keep the traps in one spot and prevented it from being moved by the ocean currents. Traps were usually placed in grassy spots because lobsters feed on seaweeds. The traps placed in white spots did not catch as many spiny lobsters as the others in the same area.
And now for the fun part – the actual checking of the traps. When a fisherman got to his fishing grounds with his dory or small skiff, he would first try to locate the lobster trap which was submerged in 6 to 10 feet of water. The trap had a lighter color than the surrounding seaweeds because the trap was covered with silt or mud. Using a small box with a piece of glass at the bottom, the fisherman was able to see and check the contents of the trap. My dad usually pulled up a trap if it had five or more lobsters. Those with only two he would leave them for the following week when he would make his rounds again.
A long pole with a large hook was used to pull the trap up and then onto the dory. The cover would be opened and the lobsters removed and placed in a crocus bag or in a shady area if available. Small lobsters were cast back to be free into the open sea. Using a brush or piece of net, the silt was removed from the trap and then cast into the sea once again with a blessing for good luck and a better catch.
My dad used to check about one hundred pats each day for three days. On the other two days he would go to repair rotted traps of those damaged by dolphins or worse yet by unfriendly human visitors (thieves).
Dad usually repaired them with strips of bamboo. On other days he went to the fish traps. By midmorning the fisherman would anchor his dory and proceed to remove the tails from his catch. It was common to catch two or three hundred lobsters on a good day, a catch that would weigh about 80 to 100 pounds of lobster tails.
These tails earned from 50 cents per pound, to a dollar, to two dollars, to five dollars to seven dollars and I believe it must be about 15 dollars per pound today. Unfortunately you can’t catch 100 pounds a day. The fun part of this process was that it led to good hand line fishing. The lobster heads that were discarded was good chum and attracted lots of fishes to the area so by the time all the tails were removed and cleaned, we had pulled in one or two dozens of snappers for our lunch and supper.
I found checking one lobster trap after another quite boring even though it was my father’s delight. It was too slow and repetitive for me. I found eating the flour tortillas with a piece of cheese more interesting. What was a lot of fun was going to the fish trap, so we will enjoy that one next issue of Twenty Five Years Ago.
– by Angel Nuñez, Columnist