By by Deseree Cain-Arzu, Wildlife Conservation Society: “Nunca te rindas. ¡Sí tu puedes!”
Profile of Leobihildo Tamai,
2017 Fisher of the Year
Like most fishermen his age, 45-year-old Leobihildo Silvino Tamai, who lives in the northern coastal village of Sarteneja, Corozal, has been fishing since he was a teenager. So what makes this dedicated husband, father, grandfather and well-loved resident stand out, so much so, that he was selected Fisher of the Year 2017?
“I hope to work alongside the Fisheries Department and share my knowledge. Things change; every year things change. But the future could be different. It all depends on collaboration between
the fishers, the various associations and the Fisheries Department that will determine how we chart the way forward,” he says.
At age 19, Bildo, as he is affectionately known by his colleagues, says he realized that he wanted fishing to be his main means of income; thus he made the conscious decision to become a fisherman for life.
“I catch lobster, conch, fish and I also do deep-water fishing,” he boasted. “But whenever I am at home on weekends, I enjoy picnicking at the beach with my family.”
Mr. Tamai’s love for the sea extends further than just earning money to take care of his family. He sees fishing as a responsibility, something that must be protected for future generations to enjoy.
“I hope that in the coming years, I will be able to introduce my family to thinking about the Managed Access Program so that they are able to teach the next generation. I teach them about protecting the corals and the barrier reef. If we do not protect these things the future could be a bigger challenge to them. I did not go to school but my daughters do.”
He speaks highly of his wife and six daughters, and explained that even though none of his daughters are fishers, his third Flor, who recently started college, is studying Biology, the knowledge from which Mr. Tamai says she will be able to use in the future to assist in the protection of the fishing industry.
He tells me that his life’s motto has always been: “Nunca te rindas. ¡Sí tu puedes!”( “Never give up. Yes, you can!”)
When he is not at sea, Mr. Tamai enjoys farming. “I’ve got coconuts, mangoes, lime, ‘mamie’, plantains, bananas and oranges, which I use mostly for personal consumption.” Sometimes Bildo sells some of his limes and coconuts to residents of Sarteneja.
The self-acclaimed “buen marinero” [captain or seaman] proudly states that he is capable of taking anyone to sea and finding his way round on the coast of Belize. His excellent relationship with the villagers of Sarteneja and his work in associations, within and outside that fishing community, are contributing factors to his selection as the Fisher of the Year 2017.
In nominating him for the award, Joel Verde of the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development, SACD wrote: “…Mr. Tamai has… supported the promotion of lionfish extraction and consumption for the well-being of our fishery resources. Mr. Tamai …actively supports the management and sustainable use of the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, an important fish nursery for many commercial fish species in Belize. Mr. Tamai also serves in other protected areas advisory committees, passionately supporting sustainable fisheries at local and national levels.”
As a long-standing member of the Sarteneja Fishermen Association (SFA), a few years ago Bildo was involved in pig-rearing, as part of an alternative economic livelihood project, financed by the Community Management of Protected Areas Conservation Programme, COMPACT. The Wildlife Conservation Society supported the Sarteneja fishers with this initiative.
And as a member of the Glover’s Reef Advisory Committee (GRAC), he explains that there are many challenges which the fishing industry faces, one of which is unsustainable fishing by licensed fishermen. He says he tries his best to highlight to his peers the importance of fishing sustainably so that future generations are able to benefit from the industry. His advice to fishers is for them to “to respect the law and regulations, so as to ensure the sustainability” of this important industry.
Bildo credits several individuals for his successful career. First and foremost Mr. Leonardo Vidal Munoz, a great friend and mentor, who taught Bildo to build boats. Munoz, whose son has taken over building boats since his father became ill a few years ago, says he has known Bildo since he was a child. He says Bildo is respected in Sarteneja village. “He works well and has good conduct,” says Mr. Munoz.
Other motivators include Bildo’s uncle, Concho Palmero, who encouraged him with constant positive reinforcement; his friend Valdemar Verde, of National Fishermen Co-operatives, who took him to Sandfly Caye where Bildo learned to build lobster traps at the tender age of 12. Bildo spent a year at Lighthouse Reef learning fishing techniques from a man he remembers only as Mr. Lopez; and another year working at Glover’s Reef with his grandfather, Mr. Ismael Sosa. It was at the urging of Munoz that Tamai became a member of the Northern Fishermen Co-operative thirty years ago.
But the person who Bildo credits most is his wife Mrs. Regina Tamai. “I thank her for taking the time to represent me at the Fisher of the Year Award Ceremony. Without her support, I could never be who I am today. I thank God for her and my family.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
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