Artisanal fishermen must go out in their boats every day to catch fish which they sell to "intermediaries" (middle men) and must accept what ever price is offered.There are 5000 families dependent on this type of fishing in the coastal town we visited today. Heifer project is assisting the fishermen to form co-ops that permit the fishermen to combine their daily catches and to be in a better bargaining position when they sell.
The coop group shares a pier surrounded by the homes of the fishermen. We divided into small groups of 3-5 and each group went out today with a fisherman. One member of each group could translate for the others, the boats are open fiberglas boats about 4-5 meters in length, and about 1.5 m wide. They are powered by an outboard motor. The fisherman has one helper, and once we reach the fishing location he lets out 1000 meters of fishing net. The net appears to be about 2 meters wide. After a 15 minute wait -we travel back to the start of the net and pull it in, removing fish as they go. On a good day they can expect to catch 500 pounds. Today it was misty, and fish tend to be inactive on rainy days. The work is very hard, and the fish piled up more slowly today.
There are many problems with fishing in this manner. Large commercial fishing boats come into a harbor and remove a huge volume of fish all at once. The official fishermen's association is powerless in dealing with the law breakers because of kickbacks and bribes. Some fisherman become so indebted to the "intermediaries" that they dare not join the coop for fear of having their debt called in. Still and all the best chance to develop a voice is through working together through the co op. Frequently women are involved in leadership roles in the coops. Women also hunt for and sell conchs that they finds the mangroves that grow beside the sea. Both conch meat and the shells are sold through the coop.
In addition uncontrolled fishing, especially by commercial boats, is damaging the sustainability of fishing In this area. The government Has established laws, but the "big boats" pay the fines and continue their practices. The fishermen we spoke to felt a strong need for policies to protect undersize fish that commercial boats simply destroy. Commercial fisherman are required to stay outside an 8 mile limit...and this to is disregarded.
The treat of the day came at lunch when we pulled to the shore and the fisherman set up a charcoal burner and lit it. We pealed and cut up green bananas for frying, he cleaned and filleted fish, made a delicious tomato, raw onion, and lime salad...and we cooked and ate the freshest most wonderful fish dinner that you can imagine!
When we returned to shore the fishermen's wives had prepared an incredible fish stew with tropical root vegetables. We each got a large bowl - so tasty!
The families we saw today are rich in relationships with family and friends...They work hard...and are subject to the whims of the market and the middlemen who control prices...but thanks to Heifer they have a new voice through their co op organizations,