Fishing against the tide.

rough fishingIn the rough-and-tumble port city of Machala on the southwest coast of Ecuador, the tides come in and the men… like their fathers and grandfathers before them… go out to sea.grandpa

About 5000 fishermen live and work in Machala and most of them are small, artisanal fishermen. They go out in pairs, in brightly-painted boats with about 4000 feet of net, and they fish the 8 miles of protected water that is legally reserved for non-industrial fishing.throwing out

It’s hard work. The nets are heavy even before they are water-logged, and the men will generally let them out and pull them back in four or five times a day. The Machala fishermen are looking for corvina (sea bass) bagre (catfish) and robalo (bass) but there’s no doubt that there are far less fish – and far fewer species of fish– in the ocean these days.

Smaller catch... fewer fish

Smaller catch… fewer fish

In fact, 85% of the world’s fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline—which is not sustainable by any calculation. “Todos menos,” (“Everything is less”) a town fisherman describes it on floor

On a good day, two men can pull in $100 to $150 worth of fish – but $50 immediately goes to the intermediaries who sell 85% of all the fish in the Ecuadorian market. Heifer’s project in Machala, begun last year with a 26-family co-op, is working to enable those families to sell directly to customers without the intermediaries –with a new dock, ramp, and restaurant where the women can sell fresh fish, prepared fish, ceviche and their famous fried plantains.

You can never stop their hands from moving -- specially when they're shredding plantains!

You can never stop these women’s hands from moving — specially when they’re shredding plantains!

The new Heifer dock is  a visible, beautiful sign of progress and the community is proud as a pelican about dock

As male-oriented as the fishing world is, it’s the women of Machala who are fiercely political, organized and focused on change. “We used to feel impotent, but now we know we can break the chain of the intermediaries,” said Rosa Lopez, who started the women’s group Movimiento de Mujeres de El Oro in 2003.

Along with a community banking program, she also established the Clean Food program to support Machala’s artisanal fishing & food sovereignty rights – then last year, went on to start the Coast to Sierra pipeline, bringing fresh fish by truck from Machala to the protein-starved Highlands families living three hours inland – and bringing fruit, vegetables and legumes in the empty trucks back to the produce-poor coast.greens

Women from Machala have taught their Highland cousins to clean, cook and love the fish – while they are improving their own nutrition with produce from the interior.

It’s a win/win effort improving both nutrition and income in both communities– and the best part is, the people doing the hard work are reaping the profits. “We have our own scales so we won’t get cheated, and we determine our own prices,” said Luis proudly.

Negotiating with the intermediaries is never a good part of the job.

Negotiating with the intermediaries is never easy — or pleasant.

Fishing is dangerous work and this close-knit community has learned to look out for each other, to protect themselves from thieving, piracy and even from the giant industrial boats that can take up to 100 tons of sea bass in one sweep through these fishermen’s protected waters.

It's hard to compete with gigantic factory ships in these small vessels.

It’s hard to compete with gigantic factory ships in these small vessels.

But the Heifer project’s investment in a spanking new dock has made them feel empowered and special.

the group

What a group!

“People can see the progress we’ve made and they’re going to be following our example of activism and cooperation,” adds Rosa. “I’m sure of it.”

A life on the water.

At home on the water in Machala.

I’m sure of it, too!

Categories: Ecuador, Environment, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Fishing against the tide.

  1. Jean Are

    Is it possible to get your email address? I would like to ask you a question.

  2. I love fishing…we need more fish!

    • The great thing about artisanal fishing is that it doesn’t involve bottom dragging or any of the really destructive practices to the ocean — and it doesn’t take too much and deplete the supplies. It can seem inefficient because there is no machinery involved, but in many ways, that means more sustainable fishing!

  3. Martha Radatz

    Who knew? Heifer builds docks! I love it when I learn something new about Heifer.
    Does the Highlands village that receives the fish have a Heifer project that helps them with their produce?

  4. I love finding something new about Heifer, too! They’re going to build a ramp to complete the project but they have to raise money and that’s difficult. But how cool is it that they all work cooperatively in the restaurant and on the dock (they used to have to pay $150/month to use another dock) and can all profit from the venture? YES, the Highlands communities are also pretty well-organized, and I’ll be writing about some of those farming communities before the year is over!

  5. What a wonderful undertaking Betty. So practical !

  6. Deb Morrow Palmer

    Love it. I really love how they are working around the big guy. That is one of the 3rd world countries problem is being controlled by big business and governments!!!!!!!!Yea!! Once again I love how Heifer looks at the area and environment to figure what will best serve that area for growth. Thanks Betty!

  7. I wonder if the people worry about a backlash from the intermediaries. Where lost income is involved, the possibility of violence can’t be far away. I hope that’s not the case.

  8. Fascinating to see what look like people’s homes hanging out over the water. I saw something similar in Vietnam, but a river was involved. Great post, my friend. Happy holidays to you and all the fine folks at Heifer!

  9. Thanks for the interesting peek into the lifestyle of Ecuador’s locals. Great photos too!

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