Roatan Island, Honduras: I owe much of the following information to a great publication, Bay Islands Voice

On Roatan Island, as on many islands of the Caribbean, lobster diving is one of the few ways the local natives have to make a living. As the local lobsters have been depleted, lobster boats head out for 10 to 12 day trips to the prime hunting areas. Here the lobster divers dive down 100, 150 even 200 feet to catch lobster that are big enough to harvest. The law says they must have a tail of at least 5 inches. The rest of them are supposed to be thrown back, but sometimes the captain lets the divers take the smaller ones for themselves.

These divers don’t know anything about modern diving techniques, involving decompression, etc. They will dive a dozen or more times a day with tanks and regulators, but no knowledge of the dangers. Many of them get the bends. The closest hyperbaric chamber is at Anthony Key’s Resort on Roatan, but that is at least 5 days away. Even if the captain was inclined to take them there, it would take too long to be effective in most cases. Sometimes the diver will lay on the boat writhing, and the decision is to spare them anymore agony by throwing them aboard.

Roatan Island has many cases of divers who have been crippled for life, usually paralyzed from the waist down. Often their families will desert them, unable to provide for them. The Bay Islands Voice had a picture of one man who has been lying on a cot on his stomach for 20 years. He was lucky enough that somebody came to feed him and perhaps clean him up once-in-awhile. Some have a wheelchair, but it’s not all that easy to get around in a shack on a muddy beach.

Divers come into Anthony’s Key all the time. They have no money, but apparently the resort does what they can. As I said before, however, it is usually too late to do anything but try.

A dive shop owner from the Corn Islands off of Nicaragua wrote a letter in response to this article telling about the situation there. Often the divers will carry a tank down under their arm without even a regulator. They breathe directly out of the tank. I have no idea how they can do that. If you are familiar with tanks you will understand what I am saying. These divers very rarely get to a hyperbaric chamber.

The dive shop operator who wrote the letter says that he has started to train the divers in modern diving techniques. Most of them are illiterate, and he must read the entire course to them, which will take at least 10 days compared to the usual 3 for most of us. They have never known about modern diving techniques before.

Of course even if they are trained it is doubtful that the lobster boat will give them equipment. If they are unwilling to dive the normal way, there are many to take their place.

Most of these Caribbean lobster are destined for the Red Lobster restaurants. Think about that the next time you see their bubbly commercials talking about cheap lobster served by perky waitresses.

I was in a local Roatan restaurant that was serving very small lobster yesterday. I asked him if they were legal. He had no idea. Somebody had sold him a large bag of small frozen lobster tails. He thought maybe they were farmed. I told him that I didn’t think there was such a thing as a lobster farm. He just shrugged. I will not mention the restaurant, because he probably is not the only one, and besides his is the only place that offers me free wi-fi.

As for me, I think I will stick to Maine Lobster. They have the claws that I like so much, and far as I can tell they are still plentiful in the sea.