The development of spiney lobster fishing in Belize 1920-1977

Material Information

The development of spiney lobster fishing in Belize 1920-1977
Abbreviated Title:
Belize Marine Report
Susanna Vega
Place of Publication:
Belizean Studies, St. John's College Junior College
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
8 pages


Subjects / Keywords:
Spiney Lobster
Spatial Coverage:
Caye Caulker
San Pedro


Belizean Studies was the longest running journal dedicated to social science research on Belize. The journal features research in a variety of disciplines including cultural anthropology, archaeology, decolonization, diplomatic relations, photo-history, oral history, biographies, literature and book reviews. It contains the work of some of the most pioneering researchers on Belize and is considered an invaluable repository of Belize’s scholarship.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution.

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Digital Library of the Caribbean


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BELIZEAN STUDIES ... .c .., ::s o .c .... .. I: I ..I: U .. ftI CD :I .. I --U o fit .... o I c::: .. ::I o -.. ca VOl. 7 No2 MARCH, 1979 The Development of in Belize, 1920-1977 Lobster Fishing Q q Belizean Heroes andf atriots: Dr. Frederick Gahne) Forestry in Belize, I rt I: Beginnings of Modern Forestry and Agriculture, 1921 to 1954 '---I' ..


BELIZEAN STUDIES is published six times a year by: Editors: BISRA (Belize Institute of Social Research and Action) St. John's College Belize City Belize (British Honduras) Cen tral America Richard Buhler, S.J. John Maher, S.J. Advisory Board: Mr. Leo Bradley Mr. Homero Escalante Mr. Vernon Leslie Rev. lloyd Lopez Miss Signa Yorke THE ADVISORY BOARD disclaims responsibility for statements, either of facts, or opinion, made by contributions. Comments and letters from our readers are welcome. Single issues of BELIZEAN STUDIES may be purchased for $1.00 each. The Annual subscription is $5.00. Foreign Rates: The Americas $5.00 U.S. and other places $g.OO Checks or drafts should be issued in the name of BISRA (Belize Institute of Social Research and Action), c/o St. John's College, Belize City, Belize, C.A.


OVERVIEW Belizean Studies was the longest running journal dedicated to social science research on Belize. The journal features research in a variety of disciplines including cultural anthropology, archeology, decolonization, diplomatic relations, photo history, oral history, biographi es, literature and book reviews. It contains the work of some of the most pioneering researchers on Belize and is considered an OBJECTIVES The objectives of the digitization project are to enable wider acces s to the journal; assist with the preservation of original documents; encourage research; and sensitize users and the public about the importance of research for the development of Belize FUNDING This project is funded by the Institute for Social and Cu ltural Research of the National Institute of Culture and History (ISCR NICH), Belize. COPYRIGHT All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except for individual education and research purposes. PUBLISHER CONTACT Princess Margaret Drive Belize City, Belize, C.A. +501 223 3732


PUBLICATION INFO: Reference Type : Journal Article Author: Vega, Susanna Year: 1979 Title: The development of spiney lobster fishing in Belize 1920 1977 Journal: Belizean Studies Volume: 7 Issue: 2 Pages: 1 6 Suggested APA Citation: Vega S (1979 ). The development of spiney lobster fishing in Belize 1920 1977 Belizean Studies 7( 2 ), 1 6 Host URL: h ttps:// www.belizehistoryassocia


SUSANNA VEGA The Development of Spiney Lobster Fishing in Belize, 1920-1977 Before 1920 the demand for spiny lobster was small, since the only market for it was the local one. Because of the limited demand its price was low, and the fishermen were not really encouraged to increase their production. Likewise, with only a small income, the fishermen could not afford added equipment which could facilitate lobster fishing. Lobster fishing at that time required much ski 11 and stamina. The lobster were caught with the bare hands since the divers were unable to buy gloves which would have helped to serious injuries to their hands. Around 1924, one Mr. Stibbs opened a canning factory in Belize City. He bought most of the spiny lobster from Caye Caulker, and brought them to Belize by sai 1-boat. Mr. Stibbs, in order to increase production, introduced the bully net, known in Belize as the jamo. Through this, lobster were caught faster and in larger quantities. In 1926, Captain R. E. Foot, a Canadian representing the Franklin Baker Company, established canning operations in a barge at Caye Caulker. Since, for canning and export, the company a larger amount of lobster than was available, new methods of fishing were Susanna Vega is a student at St. John's College Sixth Form. This paper was a part of her research project in Belizean History. 1


introduced, with new fishing equipmen t such as the g rab and grains and lobster pots coming into use. Of the three new fishing methods, the lobster pot proved to be most productive. Soon, however, the fishermen discovered a disadvantage of the lobster pot. Its funnel was made of knitted twine, and the lobster were able to chew their way out. Replacing the funnel would have been very expensive, so Mr. Apolonio Leal and Mr. Marcial Alamina suggested using a funne 1 made of wooden slats instead. This change was soon adopted by the other fishermen, and this type of lobster pot is being used up to the present date. In 1934, Mr. Coogan of Florida started buying lobster tails. His motor vessel was equipped with an icehold, so that he was able to take his tails directly to Miami. Around that time, lobster were sold at one and a half cents each and, as mentioned before, not many of the fishermen were encouraged by the low return they were paid. Because of this factor, not a great deal of lobster were caught, and Mr. Coogan decided it wasunproftt able to continue operations. Around 1947, a Lithuanian named Captain Walters, also owner of a refrigerated boat, started buying lobs'ter tails from the Southern Belizean Fishermen of Placentia. Most of the fishing was done around Glover's Reef, Light House Reef, Turneffe Island, and. down the southern part of the barrier reef. Often, Captain Walters and his crew of Placentia fishermen would stop at Caye Caulker for a big load of tails before going on to Miami. In 1950, Bilnor, a company owned by Mr. John Bilik of the U.S.A., and Mr. Guy Nord of Belize, started buying lobster from the Caye Caulker fishermen. Bilnor paid the fishermen seven cents per pound for who Ie lobster. This was the highest price paid up to that time. Bilnor was later named "B. H. Seafoods Ltd." During this time, another company, the "Caribbean Queen Seafoods," owned by Mr. George Alami lla and Mr. Alfonso Gutierrez of Belize and Mr. Ernest Busker of the U.S.A., was formed. Competition between the "B.H. Seafoods Ltd" and the "Caribbean Queen Seafoods" arose, so that the two companies decided to merge in order to avoid competition. At this time, Mr. Gutierrez applied to the Government for a concession for a monopoly. But the fishermen of Caye Caulker got together and opposed the 2


concession when the Goverrunent consulted them. As a result, Mr. Gutierrez application was turned down. An Atnerican buyer, Mr. Durno, came into the lobster business in Belize at about the same time the two companies were active. Mr. Durno used a freezer operated by another American, Mr. :Bartlett, as captain, and Mr. Antonio Vega in charge of production. To avoid the price war, Mr. Durno suggested the Co-operative movement to his producers. Mr. Vega invited Fr. Ganey to visit Caye Caulker and to try to organize the fishermen, but many of them were still unwilling to form a Before he left Caye Cau lker, Fr. Ganey left a course on the Co-operative movement with Mr. Luis Heredia, in the hope that he would one day help to organize the fishermen. Mr. Heredia, however, said nothing of this until after the Northern Fishermen's Co-operative Society was registered. Late in the year 1950, the Colony Club Fisheries Ltd. was established, with Mr. Harrison Courtenay as Director and Captain Darl Phillips as Manager. Shortly afterwards, the Colony Club Fisheries took over the two companies previously mentioned. Another company, the Del Caribe Fisheries Ltd., with Mr. Ed Devorak and Mr. Jim Bouloy as owners, emerged. These two companies competed with each other for a time until Mr. Ed Devorak took over the Colony Club Fisheries. By this time, the two companies owned by Mr. Devorak were the only buyers of lobster who had export quotas. Since Mr. Devorak had a monopoly, he was able to set the price of lobster, and the fishermen had no other outlet for their catch. It was then that the Caye Caulker fishermen decided it would be best to form a Co-operative society. Mr. Vega invited the Honourable Louis Sylvestrethe area representative -to meet with the Caye Caulker fishermen. At the meeting, the fishermen asked that Mr. Henry Usher, at that time the Registrar of Co-operatives, visit them and advise them as to how a Co-operative movement should be formed. Minister Sylvestre agreed, and after many visits by Mr. Usher and his representatives, the fishermen applied to Goverrunent for an export quota for lobster. Since the fishermen were not yet registered as a co-operative, Goverrunent denied their request, explaining that the fishermen were not yet able to manage their own bus.iness. Goverrunent also urged the fishermen to stage demonstrations in order to 3


get better prices and better. treatment from the two existing companies. In 1960 the Customs Department announced by radio that the lobster season would open on July fifteenth and that purchasing would start on the sixteenth. Shortly afterwards, Del Caribe Industries and Colony Club Fisheries also announced by radio that the purchasing of lobster would start in Belize City on the sixteenth of but for the Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker fishermen, the purchasing of lobster would not start until the seventeenth of July. This last announcement was made at night, so that the fishermen on the islands knew nothing until the following day when they had already caught some lobster. Since the fishermen had no proper storage facilities on the island, they decided to take the lobster to Belize City anyway. They arrived at the Del Caribe dock on the afternoon of July sixteenth. Mr. Devorak was so unwilling to receive the lobster that the fishermen did not leave his office until two o'clock the following morning, when he agreed to pay sixteen cents per pound for whole lobster and two cents per pound for freight. Mr. Devorak received five shipments of lobster on the same price basis. He then informed the proposed Cooperative that he would pay them one cent less per pound, as he would pay the difference to his agent in Caye Caulker. The fishermen decided to take one more shipment to Del Caribe Industries, and to stick to the same price they were receiving. If Mr. Devorak refused, they would take the lobster to the Colony Club Fisheries where they would try for the same deal. If neither company accepted their terms, the fishermen would store the lobster while they continued their demonstrations. Del Caribe Industries refused to pay the original price and Colony Club Fisheries offered two cents less per pound, to that the fishermen were forced to look for storage for their shipment of lobster. Mr. Tuto A1ami11a introduced the fishermen to Mr. Bucher Scott, the manager of Baymen Fisheries Ltd., who agreed to store the lobster if the fishermen cleaned the produce before it was put in the freezer. Once the lobster were stored in Mr. Bucher Scott's freezer, it was imperative that a payroll be taken out for the Caye Caulker fishermen. The proposed co-operative asked Mr. Scott for a loan against the value of the lobster stored. Mr. Scott did not agree to the loan 4


since the proposed Co-operative was not yet a registered society. However, Mr. Scott offered to lend a certain amount of money to each member of the proposed Co-operative until the society was registered. Mr. Vega assumed the responsibility and was able to take the payroll to the Caye Caulker fishermen. They were able to their demonstration, as they were paid in the same way for every shipment delivered to the freezer. Soon after, a seminar was held at Central Farm, and Mr. Henry Usher invited the proposed Co-operative to send two delegates. Mr. Teodoro Marin and Mr. Vega were appointed delegates. The two delegates discussed with Mr. Gates, a Canadian expert on Co-operatives, the problems of the proposed Northern Fishemen Co-operative Society. When he became acquainted with the situation Mr. Gates commented that the fishermen held a very strong position and should have long before been registered as a Co-operative Society. Shortly after the seminar, the group was registered as the Northern Fishermen's Society Ltd., and they were allotted an export quota. Since forty thousand pounds of tails were in storage at the time, the first shipment was sent to the U.S.A., and this automatically released the fishermen from the loans from Mr. Bucher Scott. The quantity of tails in storage exceeded the quota originally allotted, so that the Government granted an extension to enable the fishermen to operate until the end of the season. It was c lear by the c lose of the season that although Baymen Fisheries was not offering the best price possible, it at, least offered a better price than the other exporting companies. During the 1961-1962 season, the Co-operative So ciety sold its produce to the Baymen Fisheries. It was during this season that hurricane Hattie hit Belize, and the Society suffered many losses. The Baymen Fisheries offered a lower price for the 1962-63 season, and it was necessary to find a new outlet. At this point, Mr. Antonio Vega was appointed manager of the Co-operative. The Co-operative approached the Metropolitan Shrimp Exchange Inc., who agreed to sponsor the Co-operative so that it could build its own freezing plant in Beliz' e City. The freezer plant was completed and inaugurated in August of 1962. After the completion of the new plant, all the processing, packing and exporting was carried out by the 5


Society. During this season, the Society was ab Ie to pay the fishermen ten cents per pound more for tai Is plus a rebate distributed afterwards. The Northern Fishermen' s Co-operative Society, in the years 1962 and 1963, were ab Ie to meet the standards of the American Pure Food and Drug Association. The Co-operative had adopted a policy of appointing a new manager for every season, and Mr. Felix Bradley was manager for the 1963-64 season. In 1963 the San Pedro fishermen became organized and were registerd as the Caribena Producers Co-operative. The two fishing co-operatives refused membership to more than one hundred fishermen. This group, therefore, formed a company which was registered as the National Fisheries Development Company of which Mr. Vega was elected president. Headquarters were in Belize City since all the packing and processing was carried out in the city. At this time, Government's policy was not to grant export quotas to individuals. However, Government later did grant small export quotas for lobster. Government also warned that there would be no export quota for the following season, unless the National Fisheries Development Company also became a Co-operative Society. The shareholders complied, the company was liquidated, and the National Fishermen Producers Cooperative was registered. Since then, the Placentia fishing Co-operative and the Toledo fishing Co-operative have been registered. Where once the foreigners had a monopoly over the fishing industry in Belize, and were able to set the price, today our fishermen, through their co-operatives, are able to compete on the world market. 6