A light buoy marks the mouth of the Bay of Amatique. This body of water separates the southern tip of Belize from Guatemala. The buoy likely still provides the fleets of containerized banana boats from multinational corporations like Del Monte and Chiquita with the navigational aid they need as they head towards the Central American port of Puerto Barrios. There they load cases of golden fruit that will eventually make their way up to grocery produce displays in places across the continent such as Whitehorse.
The buoy provided a destination back in 1969 for a fishing boat captain taking a group of university students on a day’s outing. The captain knew that around the buoy he would provide us with the chance to hook barracuda, the long, fierce-looking ocean predator. He was right. It didn’t take more than a few minutes of trolling a 20-centimetre-long silver spoon with an impressively large hook to catch our first barracuda.
Trying to land a barracuda matched the excitement of reeling in a big fish. Once on board, the more than 1.5-metre fish had to be dispatched with a baseball bat our guide had handy. Later he change focus and looked for another popular local fish, red snapper. By steering his boat almost at right angles to where he saw gulls diving on the water he intersected the path of these fish following schools of small prey fish.
Over the last four decades, marine researchers have noted a sharp decline in barracuda and other large predatory fish in coastal Caribbean waters. In a recent National Geographic Ocean Views blog, Enric Sala wrote, “Ninety per cent of the large predators in the ocean are gone and their populations have collapsed.” This has obvious implications for the entire marine food web in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Sala goes further: “some scientific studies suggest that most fisheries will collapse before 2050.”
Warming seas, loss of coral reef habitats, destructive fishing techniques, growing demand for ocean-derived protein and a host of other factors reinforce the dire warnings of Sala and many others. The path we are on is clearly not sustainable. Do we have an obligation to chart another course?
People like Susan Thompson believed we do. The well-known and respected fisheries biologist died here late last month but the community of caring and concern she created around Fish4Kenya has not. Early in her career here Susan took leave to volunteer with Canadian Crossroads International. They sent her to Kenya in East Africa in 1984.
This experience planted a seed of care and concern in Susan for the people of Kenya. Over the years she developed an expertise in small-scale fish farming, which she could share with rural farmers there. The additional money from the sale of their fish offered subsistence farmers a real chance to improve their lives and that of their communities.
Her understanding of community development broadened as her involvement in Kenya deepened. Susan recognized other key needs such as the education of young village girls. Sewing machines purchased with the support of fellow Yukoners helped provide both educational opportunities and an alternative source of income for them.
Fish farms in Kenya or marine sanctuaries and sustainable fishery practices in the Caribbean all offer visions of a possible just and equitable world. Somehow we must not only develop an awareness of our common global humanity and the responsibilities this entails but also of our obligation towards future generations. Susan has shown us that this is possible.
A memorial service at Whitehorse United Church will honour Susan and her work this coming Sunday at 2 p.m. Donations are being accepted at the Whitehorse branch of the Scotia Bank to continue developing the programs offered by Fish4Kenya and a living link between the Yukon and Kenya.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact email@example.com.