bi-weekly print & online magazine
for Roatan, Utila & Guanaja

cover story


written by Jaime Johnston
photos by Thomas Tomczyk

In Honduras, fishing is an industry generating high revenue and fostering solid international trade relations. For Bay Islanders, fishing is more than an industry; it's their livelihood. Thousands of families in Roatan, Utila and Guanaja are supported directly by the fishing industry.

The Bay Islands are home to a fleet of lobster, shrimp and fishing vessels. Seven of the 12 Atlantic packing and processing plants are located in the Bay Islands. The packing industry provides stable employment to hundreds of workers and serves as the middle man between the local fishermen and the foreign and domestic markets. Guanaja houses three shrimp and lobster packing plants: Mariscos Isleños, Industrias Armadores and Islander Fisheries; Hybur, Agua Azul and Mariscos Caribeña process shrimp and lobster on Roatan.
Mariscos Caribeña of Oak Ridge employs 170 people, most of whom are women. The packing season lasts eight months, providing 8-12 hours of work daily for each employee. Workers earn 9 Lps./hour and overtime pay is 10.5 LPs/Hour
The packing job attracts many people from the mainland and, according to Mariscos Caribeña Personnel Manager Jose Luis Diaz, about 30% of the employees are from the Bay Islands. Packing is factory-style line work where the machine noise is too high to allow for conversation and masks obscure much of the worker's faces. "It's a steady, dependable job, but I had enough. (…) I'm going back to school," said Mariscos Caribeña lineworker Karen Martinez, 24.
Mariscos Caribeña deals mainly in shrimp, lobster and conch. In 2002, the plant processed 1.5 million pounds of seafood. Purchase price off the boats range from $11-12/pound for lobster and between $2.50-3.50/pound for shrimp. According to Mariscos Caribeña's owner, some area packing plants reportedly experienced a 15-20% reduction in production over the last few years. This drop may be attributed to the addition of four new packing plants in the Atlantic region since 1996. Dr. Francisco Ordoñez, the Atlantic inspector for Servicio Nacional de Sanidad Aquapescaria (SENASA), reported that the amount of seafood processed in the region remained the same despite the increase in the number of plants. In addition to the 12 Atlantic plants, there are nine other packing plants on Honduras' Pacific coast; these Pacific plants are unaffected by the American shrimp embargo because they pack farmed shrimp. The vast majority of shrimp and lobster packed in the Bay Islands is exported to the United States. Breaking into the European market is increasingly difficult because of their strict regulations for hygiene and mercury content levels; American seafood can contain as much as 1 mercury part per million, whereas the European community allows only for 0.5 mercury part per million.
Each packing plant must be fully licensed by the government and receives at least one surprise inspection every month. Dr. Ordoñez helped to implement and oversees a self-monitoring system for the packing plants. The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a self-analysis process designed to ensure compliance with federal health and safety regulations. Each plant must keep data on their processes to certify the system is being used properly.
The seventh Bay Islands packing plant deals in a smaller element of the seafood industry. Roatan's Flying Fish, established in 1986 by American Lloyd Davidson, carved out a niche market with their export of fresh fish. "The reason we do fresh fish is that it's a really different market. In the United States, there is a perception that fresh fish is better than frozen. To deal in fresh product though is a very high-risk business; there is a 3-6 day shelf life- at which point, it has to be sold or you take a loss," said Davidson.
Davidson's plant operates three fishing boats. Purchases from four other local fishermen account for 50% of their product.

Boats fish on the deep, outer edge of the lobster banks that begin about 200 miles east of Roatan; they fish as far as 320 miles from the Islands. Each boat carries 18-20 tons of ice and between 12,000-18,000 pounds of bait, mainly American-imported squid. Red Snapper, which accounts for 95% of Flying Fish catch, is a deep water fish; boats fish with 10-20 hooks per line and about 5 lines per vessel. They fish with hydraulic reels in about 500-100 feet of water. On the boat, fish have to be iced, cleaned rapidly and maintained."If it's not handled properly on board, it can cut the shelf life in half," said Davidson. From each two-week fishing expedition, a 6-7 man crew nets anywhere between 6,000 and 16,000 pounds. "There's a long learning curve for Captains fishing deep water fish; it's difficult because the fisheries are influenced by heavy currents. Captains generally come up through an apprentice system over a long period of time," explained Davidson.
Once the product reaches the dock, the 12-14 person quality-control and processing crew fall into their respective roles. Inspectors classify each fish based on weight and species and then grade them according to color, texture, eye clarity and odor. "You have to have a sharp, trained eye to monitor every aspect of the grading process. We note if there's fading, if the eyes are clear, if the fish is firm, and make sure it has no odor. Also, the gills have to be red
If the fish are left in the water too long or the water temperature is too high, then it will affect these things we check for," said Supervisor Danilo Zunigg. The processing team, dressed in long coats, hair nets and rubber boots, sort through tons of Red Snapper, Grouper, Yellowtail Snapper, Mutton Snapper, and various other species. "The crew can process about 3000 pounds of fish per hour," said Davidson. The team loads the fish into baskets by species in 65 pound groups; the boat captain sits at the scale with an inspector to record and verify the catch information. The fish are rinsed in a vat of chlorinated water kept at between 32-36 degrees and then packed in ice. Packers then place each fish belly-down into a 65 or 90 pound foam-insulated boxes which offer 48-hour protection of the product. There are between 4-5 pounds of ice packs per box to maintain proper temperatures. "For every 500-800 pounds of fish that comes in, we rinse the table and equipment. Fresh fish is very delicate.

Once you start the process, you have to push through to the end. It's very time-critical," said Zunigg. Boxes are stacked and stored in the cooler until shipping time.
"When we started off, 95% of our product was exported to the United States. In the past 3-4 years, local sales have increased. Now we sell about 12-15% of our fish to local hotels and restaurants," said Davidson. For their exports to the United States, Flying Fish transports their product on the cargo boat Gibraltar to San Pedro Sula and Puerto Cortes from where they are flown directly to Miami. Over 80% of their export is purchased by Florida wholesalers and sold in high-end restaurants and hotels. Market value for fresh Red Snapper is approximately $2.50/pound, whereas frozen Red Snapper might sell for $1.50-1.60/pound. "It's easy to tell the quality of the product at every stage; it's essential to have established buyers who you can trust," Davidson noted.
As the first exporter of fresh fish in Honduras, Davidson has seen a lot of changes over his 16 years on the Island: "There used to be a huge price difference between Red Snapper and other fish in the United States. Over time, as people became more exposed to Grouper and Yellowtail Snapper, the prices evened out and now they all sell for around the same market price." Environmental and governmental regulations have also emerged as the industry has developed. "I think the general trend is just for the protection of the fisheries and everyone understands that. Year-round fishing isn't a threat to the reef because every species has a different breeding period. It's something that can be sustained over time as long as the pressure on the fisheries stays moderate," added Davidson.


local news


Like the Captain Morgan sacking the Castillo Santa Barbara in 1756 in Trujillo, Arsenal finished off the football team from Santa Barbara on September 7.
The teams played two games against each other for to determine the North Western Championship; the game at Santa Barbara yielded a tie and Arsenal won the Roatan game 3-2, winning a spot in the mainland's Second Division. Santa Barbara appealed the victory in Los Fuertes, claiming that the Los Fuertes field was smaller than regulations allowed. After a two week deliberation, Honduran football's governing body ruled the game must be replayed. The decision was the first of its kind in Honduras' football history and delayed the start of the Second division's opening games by a week.
Arsenal chose to play in Trujillo, in a climate similar to Bay Islands. Mr. Bobby McNab offered boat passage to the team at no charge, with Arsenal paying the cost of the diesel. Arsenal arrived in Trujillo on Saturday, September 6, at 1:30pm and was able to spend an hour and a half training and getting familiar with the field.
Spartans arrived in Trujillo the night before the game, after a nine-hour bus ride from Santa Barbara and the team was too tired to practice. "We had one player sick (Olman Mandonado) and another left the team (Orlin Munoz)," said Jeraldo Sajastuna, a Spartan forward.
Several of Arsenal's players came from far away to join their team in the playoffs.
Ruben Martinez came to the game from Olanchito and forward Jay Hynds came in from Miami, but team's goalie Kenny McNab wasn't able to travel for the game and was replaced by Edgardo Fuentes.
Four hundred spectators turned out for the game. Many Arsenal fans showed up from La Ceiba and Trujillo football fans expressed their support for the Bay Island team.

At 2pm, the Trujillo field was sun baked and hot with gusts of wind picking up dust. After a nervous 15 minutes from both teams, Arsenal begun to exert more coordinated attacks. In the 32nd minute, after a penalty and a center by Quelty Norales, Alexander Martinez caught the ball with a header, putting it past the Spartan's goalie.
For the remainder of the half, Arsenal pressured Santa Barbara, but wasn't able to score. In the first 20 minutes of second half, Arsenal controlled the ball, but allowed several dangerous shots from Santa Barbara. Goalie Fuentes had to display his skill repeatedly before the final whistle.
"We didn't want to play this game… but they made us play it and as there is God in the sky… we won this championship two times," said Arsenal's coach Emilio Martinez. According to Arsenal's owner, Mr. Leland Woods, the team had to spend over 35,000 LPs to prepare and organize the third game in Trujillo.
On the night of the game Arsenal returned to French Key Harbour singing victory songs.

By Thomas Tomczyk

Suspected arson targets RECO
On August 31, in an act of apparent arson, a RECO high tension pole was burned down in Brick Bay. During repair to the pole, much of the western Roatan, including Roatan Hospital, was left without power for six hours.
A handwritten note left close to the site accused RECO of buying petrol on the black market, manipulating energy prices and asked for kilowatt prices to be lowered. "This is only the beginning," read the note signed by "El Pueblo" (the people). "We buy our petrol in Puerto Cortes from HonduPetrol like everyone else," said Eng. Leonardo Casco, General Manager of RECO since 1999. "This is the first time that something like that has happened to RECO," added Casco.
The incident coincides with the lowering of government subsidies to small energy users from a maximum of 300 LPs to 54 LPs In anticipation of the higher customer bills, RECO lowered its energy rates for August. According to Casco, the Honduran government owes the Roatan company 5.8 million LPs in unpaid subsidies.

Over 300 students and 17 teachers from the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Bilingual School in French Harbour will take part in the Independence Day parade and celebrations. Nivida Sanchez, SDA Spanish teacher at the primary level, has been practicing the marching routines of the gymnast group. "We relive and show off our spirit of liberty," described Sanchez of her preparations for third SDA Independence Day celebrations.
Cadets, adventurers, pathfinders, gymnasts with hoops and ribbons, flight attendants, butterflies and bees, security and the graduating class are among the ten groups that will participate in the September 15 march. The family of each student covers the 500 LPs cost of the costumes. For almost half of the SDA students, the cost is too high and they end up walking in the main group. The celebrations will begin in front of the French Harbour Preventiva at 8am.


West End Café does it Your Way

by Jaime Johnston

Jazz music plays in the background of the newest West End café and their resident dog, Tigua sleeps in the center of the room. This is a typical day for the shop which has centered its business philosophy around comfort and simplicity. Paradise Café serves an all-day breakfast, deli-style sandwiches, smoothies and their specialty fresh-squeezed orange juice. "Fresh orange juice is our biggest seller. We go through about 180 oranges every two days," said Difranco. The café's emphasis is on freshness; Difranco estimates they spend between 500-800 LPs every two days on fresh fruits and vegetables.
Paradise deals with three local produce suppliers and employ two local bakers to provide between 4-6 types of baked goods daily. "The concept was born from necessity. We're doing something West End needed, something that wasn't there before," said Difranco, "People need healthy food, fresh food. What I would want for myself- that is what we do here."
In addition to local produce and coffee, Paradise Café sells imported cheeses and wine. "We have two kinds of imported Italian cheese and three imported wines: Chilean, French, and Italian," said Difranco. The café has a fully-stocked bar and sells Honduran cigars.
One year ago, plans for an Internet café for West End emerged between several local businessmen. Mitch Cummins hoped to open a shop offering online services and enlisted the help of Nico Difranco to scout locations. After surveying several sites, Difranco and Cummins found a building owned by Euro Mesghez and Paolo Finzi; the building had housed West End Divers, which Mesghez and Finzi opened in 1981.
Cummins pushed ahead with plans to open a Paradise Computers branch in that building and opened for business in early April. Finzi and Mesghez approached Difranco to open a café on their behalf as a joint business venture with Cummins' Paradise store. "They have a good partnership. Euro handles the operative and Paolo the commercial side," said Difranco.
Beginning in January 2003, renovations began on the first floor of the building. It was necessary to rewire the room, improve the septic system, add kitchen facilities and Internet connections and revamp the decor. The café design is a colorful open-space with a hint of Mediterranean influence. Fresh fruit garnish the countertops and the art of a local sculptor is displayed throughout. "I handled the interior designs. My idea for it is the same as my thinking about food: it's all about fantasy and color," explained Difranco.
Paradise opened its doors to customers on August 9; this was the beginning of a two-week high period for Roatan tourism. "For those two middle weeks of August, we were selling more than 50 breakfasts every day," said Difranco.
The multi-lingual three-person staff operate the café from 8am-9pm. Three walls are lined with wooden countertops that will eventually house laptops to provide online access to customers. There are 12 Internet connections in the café from which Paradise Computers will collect revenue.
For Difranco, a 10-year veteran of the service industry, the café represents a business venture that is based on simplicity. "There's no premeditation; I don't have a menu. I want people to feel comfortable here and tell me what I can serve them. Hopefully, everyone will find their own corner of the world in here," said Difranco.

Read other issues of
the Bay Islands Voice

No. 1
March 27 2003
No. 2
April 10 20
No. 3
April 24

No. 4
May 8

No. 5
May 22
No. 6
June 5
No. 7
June 19
No. 8
July 3

No. 9
July 17

No. 10
July 31

No. 11
Aug. 14

No. 12
Aug. 28