CHRONICLES by Maestro Angel Nunez – Every job has its due share of struggles and joyful rewarding moments. The store owner, food vendor, the garbage collector, the architect and the mechanic, even the doctor and the politician all have their glorious moments to celebrate and their struggles and lamentable moments. Today I want to take you through a memorable period in San Pedro to honor the early fishermen who set the pace for the development of this “Our Isla Bonita”.
In the 1930’s and 40’s when some of the villagers were busy in the coconut plantations, a few sea loving villagers were engaged in hand line fishing in front and around the village’s immediate surroundings. The equipment included a dory, fishing line and hooks, with pieces of lead or stones for sinkers. Sinkers were needed because small fish would eat your bait if it did not sink fast enough to the bottom where your prized fish were feeding.
The fishermen would catch sardines or dive for conch to be used as bait. Fishing was done anywhere between the shore and the reef or the reef itself. By ten o’clock he would be returning to the beach with two or three dozens of snappers, yellow tails, jacks, grunts or even small barracudas. The reef’s trigger fish, locally called old wives, were a prized catch.
The fisherman would clean enough fish for his home and sell some to the villagers who were attracted to the beach by the low flying frigates which we called “rabios” in Spanish. Whatever was not sold out was sold door to door in small bundles which we called “sartas” of five or six fishes for ten cents. That was enough for a perfect family meal.
By early 1950’s someone had introduced the chicken wire which the fishermen used to build fish traps all along the shoreline. The only place where one could not set up a fish trap was in front of the village. Every morning the fisherman would visit his trap and with a net or spear he would drag in his morning catch and then head to the village to sell to the general public.
Again the leftovers was sold door to door and if it was a large catch it would be processed and preserved with salt in a process called corned fish or in Spanish “pescado salado”. This corned fish was sold to local buyers who would take a load to Belize City or to Corozal and Orange Walk to be sold in their local fish markets. As you can see, this was the beginning of commercial fishing.
Occasionally and with good luck a fish trap would sometimes be blessed with a giant grouper, snapper, Jew fish or even a loggerhead turtle and this was a special treat for the fisherman and the village. These made great sales. I mean, a large turtle could earn him between $8 to $10 dollars which in the 50’s was big money, considering that coconut farmer was earning two or three dollars per week.
Before 1920 the spiny lobsters were considered trash fish or pests by the San Pedrano fishermen. The waters of Ambergris Caye were infested with them and the fishermen complained when the lobsters got trapped in their fishing nets.
Although nobody was buying them commercially, the locals had discovered that it was a delicacy. So even though they spent hours at times casting them out of their fish traps, they also enjoyed this delicious yet cheap delicacy in various menus like hashed fried, boiled or steamed, or in an aphrodisiac soup called “chechac” by the locals. (probably Yucatec Maya)
As you can appreciate our early fishermen had a simple and relaxing job. Today this kind of fishing is considered sport fishing. When most people are working the minimum of eight hours and some go to 12 or 14 hours, the fishermen they only worked for about four hours a day. The catch was sufficient for the day’s table and with the sales he only had to buy beans and rice and his meals were guaranteed. Rice with beans and fried or baked fish makes a nutritious expensive dinner today and the villagers back then had it six times a week and only ate corned beef soup on the 7th day because it as Sunday. I take off my ht to the early fishermen and their families.