From the middle to the latter part of the 19th century, the island of Bonacca (Guanaja) was slowly being populated by our ancestors. They came mostly from Belize and Grand Cayman, and some that had already settled in other parts of the Bay Islands decided to come to our island to start a new life.
These people were farmers and fishermen, and within a few years they were producing farm products in such quantities that they could export them to other countries. By 1883, with very few people on the island, Bonacca exported $87,500 worth of fruit and coconuts to the US. At the time it was the highest per-capita income on the continent. Roatan exported more, but its population was in the thousands; Bonacca’s was only 100 souls. Utila had about 500 people back then. Bonacca thrived because of the fruit industry.
Fishermen also contributed to our growth. They kept the island supplied with prime fish and also salted some for the long haul. Their turtle harvesting was rivaled only by the same kind of operations on the Cayman Islands. The small sailing vessels would be gone for weeks, venturing into the cays and reefs off the northeast coast of Honduras. The cays and reefs were all named by the hard-working fishermen of the Bay Islands.
In the 1950’s these fishermen had better boats and would often tell stories of American vessels fishing the same area they fished. These foreign boats were mostly trawlers dragging for shrimp. There was no interest in this country for such endeavors until the arrival of some American shrimp consortium to Bonacca. In that same year the first seafood processing plant was built on the Cay.
The crews of the boats were a mix of American and locals, so the locals learned the fishing methods and procedures. Some of our people went to work in the US, and with time and a lot of sacrifices, they bought some cheap small boats and returned to start their own fishing businesses.
When fishing for lobster became popular, these small boats began diving for lobster, and as the number of little boats increased, the need for more divers became crucial, and we started hiring and training Miskito people from Honduras’s Gracias a Dios Department (aka La Moskitia) for the job. The diving eventually evolved to the use of SCUBA gear to enable the retrieval of the product form deeper waters.
Bonacca was where all this started, and this business became the principal source of revenue for the island, with as many as four packing plants operating on the island at one time. We are down to one packing plant now, as many have sprung up in other parts of the country and the main fishing fleet is now centered on the mainland.
Our only source of income will dry up next February with the closing of the lobster diving by the Honduran Government. Only God knows what will be the fate of this mostly overlooked island in the Western Caribbean. All my people are wondering what is to become of the island. There are even rumors that the only packing house on the island may have to close, because with the diving closed, they will lose 60-70 percent of the product they receive during the season. More than 1,000 jobs will be lost on this island, which at present is barely surviving.
To make things worse, the politicians of the Department of Gracias a Dios have petitioned the government to turn over to that department the exclusive rights to the fishing ground that has been by tradition the area that we all have fished for over 100 hundred years. Whatever else happens, we cannot permit any part of Honduras to become exclusive to any one people. The government should be well aware of this, because it was the Central Government that forbade us from enacting local laws to keep undesirables out of these islands. We need help now. [/private]