story / editorial
By Alfonso Ebanks
it all begun
running between the Bonacca Cay and the main island. Open
cockpit dories and boats are the preferred and sometimes only
way of getting around the island.
wind was from the east, the sky was clear and the pilot of the
lead vessel went about checking the course when someone yelled,
"Land ahead." The pilot entered the captain quarters
to inform him that the lookout had sighted land.
This was the fourth voyage of its kind to this part of the world
for the Great Captain and, though he was ill, he made an effort
to come out on the deck to see yet another island. When they
had approached to within a half mile of the island the pilot
spotted a reef and signaled a halt to their forward motion.
The ships turned into the wind and the crews began dropping
their anchors in the crystal clear water just as the sun came
up over the verdant hills. The reef appeared to extend the full
length of the island, but dead ahead a break in the reef appeared
with a blue inlet that turned and curved inward to the beach.
A few hundred yards behind the reef the observers could see
the opening in the white sands of the beach, which meant the
outlet of a river. The crews began launching small boats in
which they would negotiate the channel, traverse the short distance
to the beach and be able to refill their water barrels with
As they loaded their small boats with the barrels, they spotted
another vessel coming up from the west. The pilot and the captain
recognized it as a native canoe. But something was different
about this canoe: it was not only huge but also decorated and
adorned in a manner not seen before by any of the officers or
the crew. The canoe came straight away to the lead vessel, which
had anchored a little closer to the reef than the others. The
Great Captain was impressed with this canoe and commented that
it was as large as a galley. These canoes did not make use of
sails; all the propulsion was by paddles and this one had 40
paddlers and room for plenty of trade goods.
With the help of a few natives from other islands who accompanied
the great captain on his ship, some sort of communications was
possible with the natives in the large canoe, who were from
the mainland. They had come up from the south and west to trade
with the inhabitants of this island. The Great Captain was invited
to go ashore in the native canoe instead of one of the small
boats loaded with water barrels. The Great Captain was joined
by his young son and they came ashore a little east of the outlet
of the small river. Here they disembarked and, as the Great
Captain questioned the captain of the large canoe, his men went
about filling the water barrel with sweet water. While the Great
Captain found out about the lands to the south and west his
young son frolicked in the blue green water of the beach with
some young islanders who had come out of the bushes. Though
initially approaching him with some trepidation, the islanders
and the captain's son soon became quite friendly.
The native captain complimented the Great Captain on the huge
size of his vessel and inquired about how it was built and from
what material the sails were made. During the difficult discourse
the Great Captain was offered an earthenware vessel filled with
an aromatic concoction. Feeling it would be unfriendly to refuse,
he tasted the brew and found, to his great amazement, the exotic
flavor of the brown liquid to be captivating. He was told that
the brew was called cacahuatl, a common drink among the natives.
After the crew of the ships had filled all their water barrels
and finished some trading, they bid farewell to their gracious
host and departed the island. After the Great Captain's vessels
cleared the island and headed southward, the Great Captain commented
that the island should be called the Isle of Pines because it
was covered with huge pine trees both on the northern and the
The year was 1502 and Christopher Columbus had discovered Bonacco,
from which he had first sighted the mainland of the American
continent. The large canoe was a Mayan trading vessel coming
to trade with the Pica Indians who lived on the island. They
mostly traded earthenware, animal skins, horns and antlers in
exchange for shells and pearls.
These early inhabitants of Bonacco did not know it, but this
first encounter with Europeans would spell doom for them and
their ways of life. Within a few years the Europeans were coming
more often, sometimes stopping for water but always taking whatever
they wanted. Because of their increasingly trying life in the
years that followed, the Picas moved away from the island. The
last aborigines to populate the island were the Payas. The Mayans
still visited and on some special occasions, such as a ceremony
held on the island at a cave the Mayans deemed a "cave
of creation," brought dignitaries in their large canoes
from the mainland. This could only mean that when the cave was
discovered by the Mayans they found artifact that predated their
1502 until somewhere around 1611, the Bay Islands were in the
possession of Spain. In 1611 or 1612 English pirates discovered
the many harbors, the plentiful timber available and the numerous
springs of clear sweet water. Naturally, they decided that this
was the place to rendezvous and outfit their ships, and so took
full possession of all the Bay Islands. After many failures,
in 1650 the Spaniards succeeded in driving the pirates off the
Islands. This was the same year that the Spaniards removed the
last remaining natives from the island. Those who did no go
back to La Mosquitia were carried by the Spaniards to Amatique
in Guatemala. The islands were populated by Europeans off and
on for the next hundred years or so. By 1762 the English had
returned, had taken formal possession and had fortified some
of the islands.
Bay on Guanaja's south shore. The beaches of the big island
are still mostly undeveloped.
the English were driven out again in 1780, they returned in
1797 with two thousand Black Caribs from Saint Vincent to
the island of Roatan. For the next 50 years the island was
sparsely populated by the English, so that by the year 1860
at least one hundred persons were living on the south side
of Bonacco. A thriving farming community was established on
the fertile soil of the island, and vessels came from far
in search of agricultural products. Among these vessels were
always several turtle boats from the Cayman Islands. The crew
of the turtle boats carried back such glowing accounts of
this island that several dozen families immigrated to Bonacco,
both freed slaves as well as their former masters. The island
maintained many ties with the islands of the Caymans. Trade
was mostly in agricultural products for dry goods and medication
from England, but also included Grand Cayman's only products--thatch
rope and straw baskets. The traffic in goods and people between
the Islands of Cayman and Bonacco continued for many years
without any visas or permits required, based on the fact that
the people were of common ancestry and more than likely cousins
to some degree.
The attitudes of the Caymans people have changed towards the
Bonacco people, however, and I attribute this to the fact
that they have forgotten our past history. The nickname "Bonacco
pirates" actually came about when a group of freed Negroes
plundered a British ship which had gone aground on one of
Bonacco's reefs. At the time the incident was called the raid
of the Caymans Pirates, but Bonacco got the name and has kept
it. Even today, the older heads from the other islands call
us "Bonacco Pirates." By this time Clark Cay had
replaced North East Bight as the Capital of Bonacco and was
the main spot for social events and religious gatherings.
The main island was populated by a black blood-sucking insect
whose bite is the most painful and its sting last longer than
any other blood sucking insect on the island. The bottle (blotch)
flies were the reason that the early settlers decided to move
their dwelling houses to the nearby cays.
At first the settlers only went to the cays to sleep but eventually
they moved bag and baggage to the little cays. The two lower
cays were small but were separated by shallow water and this
was ideal for building houses on pilings. The former masters
lived on Hog Cay and the rest lived on Shin Cay. What is ironic
about this separation is that Hog Cay was purchase from persons
living on Shin Cay. Eventually the two cays were joined together
as the space between them was filled in with millions of reef
rocks and thousands of tons of bar mud.
In the 1880's the United States became a trading partner of
this island. In 1883 this island sold fruit valued at 87 thousand
dollars. It was during this period that the Adventist religion
came to the island and from here to the rest of Latin America.
After the Second World War prices improved and during any
one month at least eight ships could be seen making port-o-calls
for any kind of produce including coconuts, pineapples, bananas,
plantains and the like.
Bonacco was an active and progressive place. Of the three
mayor islands Bonacco was first to have many modern commodities
and devices. The first ice plant in the Bay Islands was erected
in the early nineteen fifties. The first juke box came in
1953. The first meteorological station in 1955. By 1956 the
first landing strip was in operation and Bonacco became the
first destination for fly-in tourists coming primarily from
El Salvador and Guatemala.
About the same time shrimp were discovered in commercially
viable amounts off the eastern coast of Honduras. And it was
Bonacco that became a pioneer in the seafood packing business
Lobster fishing came next, and at one time four packing houses
on the island were packing and exporting seafood bought from
locals and from other fishermen throughout the Bay Islands.
While the fishing industry brought prosperity to Bonacco,
it also brought lots of laborers and the attention of the
Honduran government, which declared that the official name
of the island was Guanaja. With the exception of few, these
new immigrant laborers were poor, uneducated people looking
for a living who took more than they gave to the island. Their
immigration started in the early nineteen sixties and continues
until this day, even though the availability of jobs that
once existed has long ago dried up. This influx of people
has reached such proportions that the local native-born, English
descent population is now a minority.
Guanaja remains a beautiful island. Of all the Bay Islands
it is the only one with an abundance of year-round fresh water
springs, small rivers, creeks and even waterfalls. The encompassing
coral reefs are unequalled and even Roatan advertises their
scuba diving beauty by using photos taken on the reefs of
Guanaja. The island is the dive destination of many dive operations
from other islands. But the coral reefs are not the only resource
the island has: At least three archeological sites bear looking
into, each appraised by their discoverers as being of huge
importance to deciphering the pre-Columbian cultural history
of these islands and maybe of all Central America. The importance
of these sites has been forgotten, however, and they have
been robbed of thousands of artifacts over the last few decades.
Many have attempted to make Guanaja a bona fide tourist destination.
As yet, though, all their attempts have failed. Some of these
ventures operated well for a while before eventually going
bankrupt. In at least two of these ventures the investors
came with just enough money to purchase some land and then
proceeded to borrow money from local banks using the land
as collateral. This is not a completely unheard-of procedure,
but at least two of these operators tried to maintain their
operations (kitchen, salaries, bank payments etc.) with the
monies from the sales of alcoholic beverages in their bars.
The monies collected for the vacation packages sold to guest
remained in the USA. Here the old adage, "you can't have
your cake and eat it too," applies.
Guanaja is in trouble, we have long since been left behind
by the other islands in this archipelago. From three airlines
we are down to one; from three banks we now have one; and
from four packing houses we now have one that is 100% operational.
The fishing industry is struggling to survive, but the end
is in sight. And when that day arrives there will be nothing
left for us at all. This island is ripe for tourism, but for
some reason we have not been able to break in to the modern
tourist trade. Some people think it's the difficulty we must
experience to travel between the mainland and the island which
hampers our desperately needed tourism business from getting
going. I believe the reason lies with the local gentry, who
are having a hard time breaking with tradition and are still
borrowing monies to purchase fishing boats.
This island came into the twenty-first century with less than
what we had in the nineteen sixties. The pride of being a
Bonackian is lost on the new people who populate this island
and the people who placed this island in the forefront in
past decades are no more. The future of Bonacco/Guanaja looks
Bush, 27, is responsible for keeping Bonacca canals free
of debris. "The Municipality only pays me Lps. 300
for this," says Bush, "It is not enough."
story / editorial
/ local news
with the Feds
of a Bay Islands Fishing Company Comes Home after Serving Time for
originally McNab's case was also to be treated as a civil case and
settled, the charges resurfaced in 2001. McNab says that his US
buyers, without his knowledge or permission, had used his company
initials (C.D.C.) on boxes exporting additional shipments of undersize
lobster. "They shipped them [the undersized lobster] to Panama,
then to Canada," says McNab.
The payment from the 1999 shipments of lobster McNab received was
considered as money laundering; and because the lobster sale involved
a seller, broker and buyer, charges of conspiracy were also filed.
In total, McNab was prosecuted on 31 felony charges. The federal
prosecutors used a technicality to maximize charges against McNab,
and the maximum sentence passed against McNab were brought based
not on undersized lobster, but on the fact that the lobster shipments
were packed in plastic sleeves- argued as a violation of Honduran
law and US's Lacey Act- a 1900 law prohibiting the transportation
of illegally captured, or prohibited animals.
Also convicted were two US importers and a broker who bought McNab's
illegal lobster: Abner Schoenwetter and Robert Blandford from Florida
and Diane Huang of New Jersey. While the judge gave two out of three
the low end of the sentence, McNab received the high end of the
sentencing guideline. McNab began his long ordeal traveling between
jails and federal prisons across the southern United States. The
harshness of his punishment brought regional media attention and
he attempted to file for clemency with President George W. Bush.
McNab is angry and feels he was treated unjustly by the justice
system. He feels he didn't receive right legal advice from his own
lawyers and was betrayed by his American buyers. He feels that he
was set as an example by the US government as someone who tries
to fight for his rights and is punished for doing so. Originally,
McNab thought that he could fight the federal government. What he
says he didn't realize is that he was fighting a prosecution machine
with a conviction rate of 97%.
Today, life of a Honduran lobster isn't much easier than it was
seven years before. According to Steven Guillen, board member of
APESCA (Honduran Fishermen Association) and a McNab's employee,
the undersized lobster caught in Honduras by Honduran fishermen
are still shipped to the US. The export happens indirectly, often
via El Salvador. Lobster with tails less than five-and-a-half inches
long are often chopped, making detection of the undersize lobsters
impossible. "Mr. McNab's case has had no impact on the practices
of the Honduran fishermen," says Guillen.
McNab on the dock of his French Hoarbour Caribbean Fisheries Company.
Henson McNab went to prison as an energetic, confident business
man in his late forties. On Roatan he was seen by many as an example
of a community leader and benefactor to local causes. In the US
he became known as a convicted ringleader of a lobster smuggling
operation and served seven years and one month of an eight-year-one-month
sentence and paid a $800 thousand fine. While the US federal prison
system didn't break him, it definitely changed him.
Before the affair began, McNab operated the largest lobster fishing
operation in the Western Caribbean. McNab had 800 people on 30
boats worked for him in 2001. Now his Caribbean Fisheries company
has shrunk to 22 boats and 300 people. It all started in 1999,
when agents of the National Marine Fisheries Service, acting on
a tip, seized one of McNab's lobster shipments in Alabama. They
found that about three percent of the lobsters were undersized
and about seven percent either contained lobster eggs, or showed
signs that the body parts on which eggs are found had been clipped
off. McNab suspects that the tip given to the US authorities came
from one of his competitors.
McNab was prosecuted by Southern Alabama US Attorney's Office
with the assistance of the Wildlife and Marine Resources Section.
While other, bigger lobster smuggling cases have been settled
out of court, United States vs. McNab became the biggest lobster
smuggling case tried in court.
story / editorial
West End Carnival and Fishing Tournament is great fun for the Island
Community, Bill Fish Continue to be Killed for Fun and Little Else
what happens when sun shines on dog's ass. You got to be lucky to
hook a fish like that," said Kevin Wesley, captain of Miss
Trisha, and winner of the second place catch - a 275 Marlin, "I
feel happy for him." DV Woods brought in a third place prize
with a Marlin of 270 lbs.
While the Marlin meat was cut up and given away the day after the
tournament, during Honduras' Independence Day, the rest ended up
as feed for six-gilled sharks. "I've got at least 200 lbs.
from the carcasses," said Karl Stanley, owner of a submersible,
who sunk the marlin skeleton to a depth of 1,000 feet.
The caught marlin, while a record setting one for Roatan, will not
be entered in record books. Organizers didn't have certified scales,
nor certified judges to enter the marlin in the record books. The
winning marlin, a female around 20 years old, was likely already
caught in one of the catch-and-release tournaments in Belize or
Mexico--released so it could live, reproduce and grow to this size.
While the fish is the biggest marlin caught in memory on Roatan,
it is far from a Caribbean record. In April, off the coast of Tobago,
an 11-foot 3 inch, 890 lb. blue marlin was caught by a high school
student who was rewarded a cash prize of $415,000 by the tournament
organizers. According to the International Game Fishing Association,
the all-tackle record for the Atlantic is 1,402 lb, 2 oz (636 kg).
Male Marlin are smaller and may live for 18 years, females as long
as 27 years.
Fortunately, the West End carnival was more than fish. Sixteen businesses
paid Lps. 500 each to sell their products in booths lining the West
End strip. Susie Ebanks and Aaron Etches, were the West End patronato
coordinators responsible for the carnival celebrations. Amongst
what was one of the most frequented carnivals in years, several
prizes were given out. Tournament queen was Tamela Johnson, 19,
from West End. "Underwater Enchantment," a West End Community
float won the "best float award" and the $300 prize. "Mango
papaya chutney fish," prepared by Coconut Tree Restaurant,
won the first food prize and $100. Best decorated booth prize of
$200 went to "Fosters Bar and Restaurant in West End."
The biggest winner of the entire celebration was Jose Francisco
Lovo, who won the lottery auctioning the 2008 Harley Sportster auctioned
by the Roatan Women's Club.
front of the winning fish: Gary McLaughlin (captain), Pasquale Paonessa,
Robert Van der Weg, Claudio Miloni, Ricardo Flores Gomez, Lois Ebanks.
bill fishing catch-and-release tournaments in Mexico, Belize and
Costa Rica attract international boats, Roatan continues to be
shunned by anglers not interested in supporting this catch-and-kill
fishing event. Despite earlier promises by Roatan Municipality
officials, and a catch-and-release tournament begun on Utila,
this year's IX annual West End fishing tournament proved no exception.
"People don't like change, but we need to change [to catch-and-release],"
said Congressman Jerry Hynds, who took part in the event.
The tournament's winning marlin was hooked at 8:47am on September
13, the first day of the tournament. Using a Lbs. 50 test line
the six man crew of Mad Max, one of 51 boats that entered the
tournament, fought the fish almost four hours bringing her to
the surface twice. "I was on a ladder and I was still five
feet away from the scale. It's 700 pounds, or a bit more,"
said Pasquale Paonessa, one of the reelers who brought in the
giant blue marlin. While the Mad Max crew was smiling at catching
the big fish, some of them were also realizing the damage they
were causing. "I will not enter the tournament next year
if it is not catch and release," said Robert van der Weg,
one of the reelers of the winning boat.