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Jun 30, 2000

Lobster Fest starts this weekend

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This weekend, hundreds of Belizeans will be catching boats heading out to one of two destinations, Caye Caulker or Placencia, but they’ll only have one thing on their minds: Lobster. At a whopping $20 plus a pound, the crayfish has become a Belizean delicacy few have the luxury to enjoy. But over the next days, more than a few restaurants will have lobster on the menu and cooked up in more ways than one. Tonight we’d like to thank the fishermen who work the waters to bring up this golden dish. In this next story, we’ll show you the lobster fisherman’s life, above and below the surface.

Narrated by Liborio Ayuso

Its scientific name is “Paneluris Argus” and it belongs to the family of crustaceans. In Belize, however, we call it lobster or crayfish. Elsewhere it goes by the name warm water spiny lobster, rock lobster or Caribbean lobster to distinguish it from its larger and better-known cousin found in the deep cold waters off Canada and the northeastern United States. But whatever you call this elusive creature its importance to the economy of Belize cannot be overstated.

The lobster trap used by the majority of Belizean fishermen is a local adaptation of the trap used in the north Atlantic off New England. The widespread use of traps has made it necessary for fishermen to claim and work fix territories or pieces of water. The piece may range from a few acres to over a hundred, each fisherman knows the exact boundaries of his area and although this does not stop an occasional dispute from arising. A fisherman may acquire a lobstering ground by laying claim to waters that are no longer or never have been fished. Often an aging fisherman may pass on his territory to a son, a nephew or a friend and it is not uncommon for a family to work the same waters for generations.

The traps are not marked as such although one or two markers may be placed against which the fishermen may line up a particular feature on land. The traps will then be arranged in a pattern known to him alone. There are as many secrets of trap locations as there are fishermen. Traps are set in the clear shallow waters between the reef and the mainland, usually at depths of less than 20 feet. Once set at the beginning of the season the traps are checked every few days.

One fisherman may have several hundred traps and using a fast outboard powered skiff he can check as many as a hundred each day. To more easily locate his traps a fisherman may look over the side of his skiff with a glass. When he sees what he is looking for a long hook stick is lowered over the side and once snared, the trap, hopefully containing several lobsters, is brought to the surface and into the boat. A small door at the top is opened and the lobsters removed. Those found to be under the legal size, soft shelled, are spotted or with eggs are thrown back into the water. After inspecting the trap for damage and scrubbing it clean the door is once again nailed shut and reset in the same spot. By afternoon when a quantity of lobsters have been harvested the fishermen will go to a calm protected spot to separate the tails. They will be stored on ice before being transported back to the cooperatives processing plant.

The fishermen of the south rely exclusively on diving for their livelihood. Working with masks, fins and hook stick, diving for lobster is a strenuous task done best by young men like Brian Young, a member of the Placencia Producers Cooperatives.

Brian Young, Fisherman

“We don’t use traps because you find that in this area we have too many rocks. If you use a trap which we tried already the lobster take the rock before they take a trap.”

Besides having a different type of sea body the waters of the south are also deeper and less flat than the north. There are also numerous patch reefs in the large area between the mainland and the reef.

Brian Young

“Diving varies because you can get lobster from how deep a fisherman can dive, some can go to 60 feet, and you can find lobster from 1 foot to 60 feet. It depends on how good the fishermen are. But now you find that because lobster is getting scarce, you find that the guys who can go deeper is the one that will catch the most lobster.”

Whether the catch is pulled on a lobster trap or arrives on the point of a hook stick it is quickly tailed and iced in preparation for a trip to the processing plant. It is a proud fisherman who arrives at his co-op with a large load of fresh seafood.

That story was produced by the Belize Fishermen’s Cooperative and Channel Five.

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