Adventures in Unpredictability

April 29th, 2004
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] v2-8-Interview-Lloyd DavidsonIt was an opportunity to be a part of a boy’s camp in Tobago that opened Lloyd Davidson’s horizons toward the sea and the Caribbean. He became fascinated with the sea, marine life and diving. Davidson, 58, from Tennessee, participated in the organizing of the camp, volunteered there and ended up working side-by-side with Peter Hughes, the founder of scuba diving on Roatan and AKR. In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, he graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina and enlisted into the US Coast Guard. After four years of service in the North Atlantic and polar seas, he got a call from Peter Hughes at AKR who offered him a diving position at Roatan’s first dive resort. It was 1973.

Later, Davidson took two-and-a-half years to sail around the world and eventually sailed back to the US. Within a year he went from a job at a university marine science lab to founding his own commercial fishing outfit out of Morehead City. For ten years Davidson would fish for snapper and grouper during most of the year and gill-net fish in the winter.
Working with a group of US fishermen Davidson looked at opportunities to develop snapper and grouper fishing in Honduras. Working with Julio Galindo, the group founded Flying Fish and began to ship the product to the US in 1987. “I think we did this about five to eight years too early,” says Davidson. “I thought this will work out sooner or later and just hung in there.”
17 years later the 58- year-old Tennessean is involved in several other projects: he runs a freight boat between Roatan and Puerto Cortez, owns a coffee plantation and just opened a bird park outside of Copan. “I’m not fishing more for any questionable ideas,” says Davidson with a smile.

Bay Islands Voice: Do you see any affiliation with the adventure-seeking Americans that have tied their lives to Central America over the past 150 years?
Lloyd Davidson: The way I could describe it is this: ‘I’ve been furiously treading water trying to keep ahead of this place and some really bizarre things have happened along the way.’ The adventure oriented existence has been point-in-fact coincidental with just trying to operate. (…) This has not always been entirely for profit, especially with the bird park. It’s never been boring. You get caught up here with things you never intend, but in order to solve one problem you end up taking different turns that usually result in other problems.
B.I.V.: You saw many Americans come to Roatan over the years. How are they different now then let’s say 30 years ago?
L.D.: The people showing up right now [on Roatan] expect much more than before. (…) There was one year [1991 when] there was a huge break. In one year we got real telephones, the airport and a paved road. That allowed things to move in a new direction. All of a sudden conditions were much more tolerant to many more people then they were before.
B.I.V.: What drives you? What makes you get up every morning and go from Copan here, to your finca?
L.D.: [Smiling] Generally some horrible, looming crisis. If it gets too bad on one end I can flee to the other end, recharge and keep it going.
B.I.V.: But really, what is it? Is it responsibility towards your employees? A social conscience? More of an entrepreneurial spirit, a profit driven idea?
L.D.: There is an element perhaps of all of that. To a degree I end up creating things that end up more complicated than I ever envisioned them on the outset. So if you like the basic concept, fight to make it work.
B.I.V.: What were the key things that allowed you to keep going?
L.D.: I’ve been lucky to have really good people working that allowed me to get away with doing two or three things at once. They were contributing daily to keep these things functioning in the right direction. I was able to use their ideas to improve them [the enterprises] and keep them going.
B.I.V.: Is it easier now to find skilled, intelligent people like that?
L.D.: I think so. Finding the right person is never easy in a complicated, critical job. Finding somebody like Bertha [Montoya, Flying Fish manager,] who can manipulate inputs from 10 different directions at once and make them coordinate out into an export that makes it out and on time, is difficult. It’s really, really difficult to find people like that. If you are going to fire somebody, in this environment on Roatan, you better have the next guy in mind. (…) It’s getting easier, but it is not easy yet.
B.I.V.: How is the fish business doing?
L.D.: Scale fish production is moderate compared to shrimp and lobster. The local market, due to the rise in tourism, will continue to utilize more and more of the local scale fish production. Less will be exported. (…) Flying Fish took a big hit on 9/11 and we lost quite a bit of our cash flow exporting fresh product to a market that didn’t exist for several months after that. Prior to that, we averaged 70,000-120,000 lbs. a month in exports.
B.I.V.: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
L.D.: If you make long range plans in Honduras, it’s just a waste of time. You just don’t know what the short-term curves are going to be. And in some cases they can be huge. I’ve seen huge changes in this country. Particularly in the last 10-12 years. Services, parts available. (…) This is a tough environment to control, particularly for a foreigner. You have to be a person willing to accept fairly high risks and comfortable with a lot of change. And can accept a certain amount of unpredictability. [/private]

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