Hallelujah, the Fish will Live
Roatan Celebrates Honduras’ 189 Years of Independence with a New Tradition: Setting their Marlin Free

October 1st, 2010
by Thomas Tomczyk


A mother wipes perspiration from the forehead of her daughter in a September 15 parade.

A mother wipes perspiration from the forehead of her daughter in a September 15 parade.

XI annual Roatan Municipal Fishing Tournament became the island’s first catch-and-release tournament. After many years of trying and just as many years of excuses, the catch-and-release tournament replaced the catch-and-kill tradition on Roatan. In the three days of fishing, 14 blue marlin were caught and released, but surprisingly not a single white marlin, sailfish, or spearfish.

The signs of dwindling billfish populations are all around. Omoa’s deep sea fishing tournament in March ended with not a single marlin caught. “We need to conserve our resources before it’s too late,” said Roatan’s Mayor Julio Galindo. Still, not everyone was happy with the tournament becoming catch-and-release. According to Mayor Julio Galindo a couple boats based in Puerto Cortez decided not to attend the tournament specifically because it was catch-and-release.

That opinion was in a definite minority and some travelled very far to attend the event. One of them was Robin King, a sports fishermen from San Antonio, Texas. King studied the map of the Caribbean and considered their options for a once-a-year deep sea fishing tournament: Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama and Guatemala. He finally chose Roatan and made three trips to the island checking out its security, facilities and establishing personal contacts. He and 11 of his friends are now looking to bring their three boats and keep them here.

More sports fisherman like King are likely to discover Roatan, which is well placed to take advantage of the flight of tourists from Mexico, increasingly mired by drug related violence. King has been sport fishing and tournament fishing in Isla Mujeres, Mexico for 25 years. When two years ago his captain was kidnapped by the Zeta cartel, King raised $10,000 for the ransom. This was a tipping point for King and many of his American fishing friends who decided that the security concerns were a bit too much and decided to look for another place to fish and holiday.

Back on dry land in West End after a day of fishing, hundreds of West End visitors watched videos of the boat crews hooking the blue marlin, then spending hours reeling them in, unhooking them and making sure they were alert enough to be released. The videos proved captivating for the island audience that lined up in front of the main West End festival stage and its screen projector. “People love to see fish hanging from the posts, so we need to do a better job showing videos of the fish on a larger screen,” said Mayor Galindo.

Second place winners receive their prize. Reel Doctor out of Lawson Rock. Mayor Julio Galindo, Giacomo Pascuale, Robin King, Bubba Jensen, Gary McLaughlin, Greg Baldwin, Shaun King.

Second place winners receive their prize. Reel Doctor out of Lawson Rock. Mayor Julio Galindo, Giacomo Pascuale, Robin King, Bubba Jensen, Gary McLaughlin, Greg Baldwin, Shaun King.

Roatan fishing tournament is quite different from most fishing tournaments in the Caribbean. While after 10 years, the tournament originators have finally embraced the Catch and Release model, its fees and prizes are some of the lowest and barely stand up to the Caribbean average. It costs $300 to register a boat for the tournament. “Because of the hard economic times, the committee decided that it was a fair price,” explained Ana Svoboda, one of the tournament organizers. It barely registers on the scales of the tournaments that attract hundreds of boats and charge thousands for the privilege of participation.

According to King, many of the Caribbean fishing tournaments charge as much as $10,000 for boat registration. That doesn’t include the 50% prize claim that is auctioned off to the highest bidder and entitles them to earn 50% of that boat’s winners. The funds raised in the auction are usually given for charity.

The Roatan tournament’s biggest prize was blue marlin and brought in the most points–300. White marlin and spearfish brought in 200 points, and catching a sailfish got you 150 points. The tournament organizers awarded 50 bonus points for “clean hook removal” supported by video evidence. Green, orange and red banners with numbers indicating the day of the tournament had to be visible in videos submitted as proof of catching a marlin.
Unlike the catch and tag system, the catch and release system doesn’t assure that some billfish are not caught twice by the same or competing vessels during the tournament.

If a tournament boat caught a marlin that was bigger than the record marlin of 708 lb, the marlin could be killed and brought in for weigh-in. If the marlin was smaller than the record, according to the rule book, that boat would be automatically disqualified from the tournament. In 2008, a record 708 lb blue marlin was caught during the Roatan Fishing tournament.

Forty-one boats registered for the tournament, one coming from Cayman Islands. After three days of fishing, on September 19, the tournament winner was announced: Treasure Chest, a 52-foot boat stationed in Puerto Cortez, captained by Arturo Estrada. Captain Estrada amassed 1,000 points from three blue marlin. The first marlin was caught on the first day of the tournament, around three miles north of Barbareta. On the second day, the crew caught two more marlin. “We hooked another six marlin, but they got away,” said Julio Molina, one of the boat’s crew.

The tournament’s Sportsmanship award was awarded to the boat that came to the rescue of Erik McKenzie’s “Tequila Sunrise” boat that ran into engine problems and needed towing, but the prize has not yet been claimed. The Grand Slam award, rewarding the catching of three different billfish species, went unclaimed. The Best Fish Story award went to Robin King, who’s boat Reel Doctor: captained by Greg Baldwin took in second prize in billfish.

While Utila’s first catch-and-release event occurred in July 2009, Roatan has tried the catch-and-release for the first time this year. The coveted Roatan tradition of taking pictures with dead fish hanging by their tails was replaced with taking videos of catching the fish. Guanaja, with its October 21-24 deep sea fishing tournament, is also scheduled to also be a catch and release event.

A school band in front of Juan Brooks School.

A school band in front of Juan Brooks School.

Parades on September 15

The 15th of September is celebrated as Independence Day all over Central America. On that day in 1821, Spain granted independence to Central American provinces. In 1822 the United Central American Provinces decided to join the Federal Republic of Central America.

The transition to statehood was difficult as the five provinces–Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica–had conflicting interests and were often at odds with the central government in Guatemala City. Political chaos ensued and an almost permanent civil war between liberals and conservatives existed.
Honduran General Francisco Morazán was the president of the republic from 1830 and attempted to introduce reforms. His attempts failed, however, as by 1838 the federation was in such chaos that it disintegrated into five independent nations. Still, it is September 15 that is celebrated in Honduras as its day of independence. On September 14 and 15 parades of schoolchildren accompanied by school military-style bands mark the anniversary.

For several months prior to the parades children in schools from across the country practice playing their instruments, marching and singing. While Coxen Hole sees the biggest school parades, they are by no means the only parades on Roatan. First to mark the occasion this year were the schools in Sandy Bay, in the rain on the morning of September 14. The parades in French Harbour began before 7am on September 15. There were parades in Oak Ridge as well.

While hundred of spectators watched, mothers kept their parading children hydrated with bottles of water and used towels to wipe away sweat during the increasing heat of the day. Around 10am a few of the young girls in fine dresses barely avoided fainting and had to take a break to sit down. [/private]

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