Easter- Fisherman’s Christmas Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 28 March 2018 00:00

Easter means fish! And because of that, fishermen consider Easter their Christmas. Why wouldn’t they? The price of fish at this time of year goes as much as 12 dollars a pound. It is a yearly routine: fisher folk raise their price and consumers complain.  But as much as there are complaints, there are those willing to pay the price. Fish is an absolute necessity during Easter, as essential as ham is during Christmas. This is the only time of year when the fisher folk have their way and can demand high prices for their products. In any other time of the year, they are subject to the hard-nosed negotiations of consumers who could care less what it is that they have to go through to bring in their catch.

The Guardian newspaper sits smack in the heart of fish central - Conch Shell Bay, and we more than most are exposed to the goings-on at the Bay. Every day, fisher folk dock their boats with their catch for the local market and every day the buyers patrol up and down the canal side between the Vernon Street Bridge and the docking area for the boats. There they go about looking for the best and tastiest deals of the day. But what does it take to venture into the waters for the prized sea produce? I thought I might find out.

A couple of our employees are actually residents of the area and it did not take long before our office assistants, Mishack Flowers and Clarence Jones had set it all up. “We cud line it up boss,” they told me almost in chorus, the Friday before. It meant that I would venture to sea one week before Easter and would capitalize on the trip to get my fair share of fish. Before long the week was out and the plans were already made. Mishack reminded me to call Devon Goff to make the final arrangements for the expedition. “Sure, how much ah unnu wah go,” queried Devon? “Only me,” I replied.

I have known Devon my entire tenure at Guardian, that’s almost 10 years, but had exchanged a little less than a few greetings with him when he comes by to visit his in laws who live behind the UDP headquarters where the Guardian is also located. At 7 a.m. on Saturday March 24, I sprung out of bed, I had almost completely forgotten about my trip and soon made a call to Devon, “we di get ready right now dah Bay, if you no ketch we ya, we wah pick you up by Bottom Dalla,” he said. I quickly made my way to Guardian’s office and picked up Clarence who had also wanted to go on the trip. Two packs of bread, three chicken sausages in cans and some ice, needless to say what else was purchased, and we were good to go!

We made our way to Bottom Dalla and Clarence advised me it would be best that we wait for the crew near the Swing Bridge. It was not long before a 25 foot long ‘lanchon’ made its way through the Haulover Creek to the Swing Bridge. On board was Samir, Devon, Harold Goff and another of the Goff brothers along with Peter Mendez. The Goff’s are seasoned fishermen, the hardiest of them all is Harold, the boat captain, in his mid to late 30’s. Based on observation, the second in command is Devon, he’s in his early 30’s and Samir in his early 20’s. By all appearances Mendez is a fisherman by hobby as he holds a full time job with the police department.

Immediately after hopping on board, the boat’s two engines roared and we were off, it was not too long before we had made it to some mangrove islets. There Harold and Devon began casting their nets, hauling sprat which is bait used to catch other fish out at sea. After a few throws there was enough in the hold of the boat and soon enough we’re gone again, destination – an area near the channel between English Caye and Goff’s Caye.

Once there, Harold’s instructions are issued, and even before he is done with them, Samir is doing what he’s done for the past 7 years. The anchor is thrown and he says, “we good, deep enough.” Lines are then pulled, some very long ones with 4 hooks attached to them, I grab one-- did not want to be left out and so too do the others on the boat except for Mendez. He’s taken to chopping up the sprat and begins to throw some into the waters. He then passes the bait to those who request. For me, he baited my hooks. “Throw, it in,” said Devon. I grabbed the ½ inch piece of steel rod that’s attached as a sinker for the hooks and did as much. The line begins to sink deeper and deeper, a couple hundred feet. “When eh touch the ground, you hold it,” instructed Devon. It was not long before I felt a sharp tug on the line. “You got something,” says Samir with a sharp grin on his face. Then the work begins, pulling and pulling and pulling on the line and after a few minutes, a small strawberry grouper dangles on the line. “Bwai, the man bring in something,” says Samir as he goes back to paying attention to his line.

Meanwhile at the back of the boat, Devon and Harold are at it. Harold expertly attaches a live sprat to his line and casts it off by hand as far as he can and allows the bait fish to swim off. Within a few minutes, there’s a strong tug on the line. A stern look on Harold’s face and a soft exclamation, “dah wah Bonito, or wah king fish-- good size.” He then begins the classic struggle of man versus fish. He releases line and pulls in line, in a rhythmic fashion, he’s done this thousands of times and today is just another day. Pulling and tugging, finally after a few minutes the fish comes to sight. Devon grabs a hook and as the fish nears the boat’s side it is hooked on the side and brought on board-- a king fish over five feet in length. It continues the struggle until Harold picks up a piece of iron and strikes it to the head. It’s thrown into a large ice box and the work of the men continues.

Morning turns midday and the men pulled out a pack of sliced bread, a small bag of mayonnaise and a chopped ham. Mendez does the cooking on the boat apparently and he pulls out the meat and breaks off a piece and places it on slices on bread which he hands over to Devon. He takes some himself; I did not really see Harold eat; but Samir had his amount a few hours later. At no time did they stop their fishing, even while eating I saw Samir holding his line with one hand and the meal on the other.

As time passed, it was tunas, barrows, jacks, trigger fish, red snappers, grunts and two groupers. Of course I was the one who hauled in the groupers! True story! Well as true as I can make you the readers believe, actually I only hauled one of the groupers in as Samir had snagged it and gave me the opportunity to pull it on board, and what an exercise that was. Hundreds of feet of line pulled in with a fish of over 20 pounds on the line, gave me time for pause. I would later snag and pull in a smaller one of about 12 pounds. Harold gave me the opportunity to pull in a 15 pound jack and by the time it was all over I was exhausted. A full day out at sea.

Morning passed into afternoon into evening and the men relentlessly did their thing. As Harold had a line out, he placed it between his right toes and expertly fillet the trigger fish which had been caught earlier on. I took some time to cause some conversation with him. “How much a pound fi fillet right now?” I asked.

“Over 12 dallaz,” came his calm reply.

“Fisherman Christmas!” I exclaimed, but before I could say any more he answered, “but I no fool with that, I got my customers and no matta weh time ah di year I give them the same price.”

As I contemplated what he was saying, Harold explained that he’d not raised his price to his regular customers as they support him year-round and to do so during Easter would be like him burning bridges.

“Deh man buy my fish year-round, I can’t do them that. When I need help deh help me, I can’t forget that,” he said as he continued to fillet the trigger fish.

Soon enough a tug on his toe, he got up and secured the fish on the line and handed it to me. Pulling and pulling and pulling- a barrow!

I thought how much work this was.

As we spent the day, it was all casual conversations, with the fishermen passing casual jokes and eventless happenings. All day as they hauled in their catch, I marveled at their tenacity to be doing this day in and day out. The men were all on a boat that is owned by their father. I could not help but to notice Samir fingers. He is the youngest and his fingers tell his tales. Each of the index fingers is scarred with cuts made by the fishing line as he, day in and day out, brings in the catch. As I watched the men on the boat I could not forget that they can ply their trade because we live in a bountiful and beautiful Belize that permits for this to happen.

By the time we made it back to the Swing Bridge it was almost 7p.m. Needless to say I was properly corned- yes, there was salt on my face, in and behind my ears, on my arms, my feet, my shirt and my pants—salt all over. But when we landed there was a sense of pride and satisfaction in my gait. I sprang up from out of the boat and gathered my belongings, a small ice box, and other small items. Once off the boat, Devon asked, “which fish you wah ker?” I smiled, and said, “anything you wah gimme,” of course, I had been thinking of the grouper which I had hauled in. A grouper, a grunt and a snapper, and an experience of a lifetime.

Fisherman’s Christmas? They deserve it, even as I write this piece my arms and shoulders ache from all the pulling and tugging on the lines. Nuff respect to the Goff brothers and the countless other fisher folk who make fish during Easter possible. This Easter as you buy your fish, remember it does not come easy, it’s a lot of work.