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The Fourth Industry of San Pedro

The industries of San Pedro in chronological order are logwood cutting, the chicle, coconut farming and then commercial fishing. As the village grew, subsistence fishing was not enough to keep San Pedro moving forward. There were more people in the village but everyone was practically involved in fishing, so there was need for a market to sell the resources of the sea.

In 1821 the first attempt to establish a lobster export industry was made by one Captain Foote who introduced the lobster traps known locally as lobster pot. He bought whole lobsters from Belizeans at one cent a pound, steam boiled the lobsters and shipped to the United States. The first “freezer boats” began operating in Belize in 1934 buying lobsters at two cents per pound and shipped to Miami. Fortunately there were two companies which competed for the fishermen’s produce and during heated competition the price raised attractively.

Lobster Fishing Caribena Cooperative

Soon two local businessmen were attracted to the lobster export business and B. H. Seafoods Ltd. and Caribbean Queen Seafoods Ltd. purchased whole lobster at ten cents per pound. When competition between them was good San Pedranos received as high as six cents per pound for lobster tails. 

By about 1950 San Pedranos were selling to a foreign company that operated a freezer vessel and a seaplane named Catalina. The problem was that the purchasers were buying on credit and no money was paid to the San Pedranos until the purchaser returned to the island after their delivery to the United States.

According to the book Ambergris Caye Paradise with a Past, on one of those occasions the Catalina flew off with 4000 pounds of lobster tails, never to be seen again by the villagers. To this day the fishermen have not been paid for the last load. Fortunately for the villager, lobsters were in abundance and a fisherman could rake 300 to 400 lobsters. On lucky days when the cold north winds were blowing, a catch of 1000 to 2000 was a common experience.  

By the mid 1950’s there was a decline in lobster catch in the immediate vicinity of the island.  Fortunately an American introduced the fin and dive mask and the villagers took to skin diving.  They built a fleet of large sail boats and ventured to the reef and atolls down south where lobsters were still in abundance. 

Lobster Fishing Caribena Cooperative

Lobster Fishing Caribena Cooperative

Even though the price of tails was good, the bulk of the profits was made by the buyers. It was then that the villagers started organizing to form a fishing cooperative. Even though the local buyers tried all in their power to sabotage the efforts of the villagers, they persevered and conquered.

In March of 1963 the San Pedro fishing cooperative was registered with 50 members. This spiraled the lobster fishing industry to greater heights and in due time San Pedro Caribeña Fishing Cooperative was exporting rock frozen lobsters tails, whole fish, fish fillet, conch, and shrimp. Incidentally the vanishing of the seaplane Catalina with 4000 pounds of tails did not break the San Pedranos’ spirit to continue in the industry. In the late 1980’s the cooperative reported the vanishing of one of its employees with hundreds of thousands of dollars and again the fishermen lost a lot of money from rebates and back pays and this contributed to the final decline of the fishing industry. To this date this theft remains a mystery.

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