Twenty five years ago, or rather in the 1950’s, every fisherman had a fish tanker, which was a boat equipped with a well or tank in which fish were kept alive.
I always wondered how come the fishermen bored holes in the bottom of the boat and water came rushing in and the boat would not sink. Well, later on I learned that the box built in the middle of the boat contained the water because the water would only rise up to the sea level outside and the box of the well was actually higher than the sea level.
When fishermen hauled in their fish nets, a guild net it was called, the fish were alive. Immediately the fish were put into the well or “tanque” so that they would stay alive.
A well could take about 25 to 30 dozens snappers comfortably alive. They would have very little swimming space, but that was alright because they were only kept alive for a day at the most. Once the tank was full, the fisherman would set sail either to Belize City or Corozal Town. These were the two popular places where the fishermen found good sales, but these customers liked the fish alive because that way they knew the product was really fresh.
The trip to Belize City was about five hours; to Corozal Town it was about ten. Dad said that the movement of the boat caused currents inside the fish well and that this helped to keep them alive. At midday or when the men on board were hungry, they would scoop out with a small net two or these one-pound snappers, cleaned them and fried them for lunch.
On board the tanker they had a miniature fire hearth, one made with metal containers or buckets. Some of the best fried fish came from these hearths, or I guess it was because we were really hungry.
Once the fishermen got to the city, they anchored right near the market and placed the fish on large tables. Once the customers saw that they were flapping their tails, they were willing to pay ten cents a pound or about ten cents each. This was a good price considering that if sold locally in San Pedro, these snappers only fetched three for ten cents. A catch of 30 dozens was sold in less than four hours and that fetched about three hundred dollars. That was a lot of money in the 1950’s when the average daily wage was about five dollars per day.
Trust me; fishermen were very happy when they filled their boat wells with snappers. The same well full of grunts, shads or even jacks only fetched half as much cash.
At times the fishermen had to stay overnight in the city because the sales were slow. But when the sales were over, the fishermen would quickly go over and fetch some fruits, some loaves of bread, buns and a few other items that their wives had requested, and they would set sail back to San Pedro.
Once in San Pedro, these fishermen would take a day or two off considering that the catch was good and the sales were excellent. By all standards, they were rich for that week. That is how working in a fish tanker took place 25 years ago.
- by Angel Nuñez, Columnist