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article imageEndangered artisanal fishermen of ‘El Membrillo’ fishing cove Special

By Igor I. Solar     Oct 11, 2011 in Environment
Anyone who enjoys fresh seafood knows that the best place to buy fish is at the wharf where fishermen return from the ocean every morning in colourful boats loaded with fish with gill-covers still flapping; “El Membrillo” fishing cove is such a place.
“Caleta El Membrillo” (Quince Fishing Cove) is located at the southeast end of the city of Valparaiso, Chile. The small cove is protected from the strong southern winds and has served the local fishermen for several centuries.
It used to be the place where the nomad aboriginals known as “Changos” frequently stopped during their extended fishing and sea lion hunting expeditions along the northern Chilean and Peruvian coast. The Chango ethnic group became extinct around 1890.
The wharf at El Membrillo fishing cove. The yellow building on the right is part of the fishermen s ...
The wharf at El Membrillo fishing cove. The yellow building on the right is part of the fishermen's facilities. The white, castle-like building on the left is part of the Catholic University's School of Marine Sciences.
A few of the idle boats that did not go fishing. The name of the second boat (green and yellow) is  ...
A few of the idle boats that did not go fishing. The name of the second boat (green and yellow) is "Mis Hijos" ("My children").
The name of the small cove comes from a quince plantation that existed in the foothills above the beach. Once the area surrounding the fishing cove became populated, the quince plantation disappeared and the road along the coastal rockeries gave place to seafood restaurants, taverns and recreation establishments.
Some of the fishing boats already returned with the morning s catch. Several did not go at sea the n...
Some of the fishing boats already returned with the morning's catch. Several did not go at sea the night before and remained parked at the pier; there is not enough fish for everybody.
Despite persisting problems caused by the decreasing availability of fish, El Membrillo is still fairly active and an excellent location to visit during the early morning hours to purchase the freshest fish. Unfortunately, this may not continue for long. Coastal and near-coastal fish stocks are drastically dwindling. Competition for fish quotas with the industrial fisheries remains a contentious issue which is precariously resolved every year by the government’s fisheries administration agencies.
The small-scale fishermen usually blame their problems on the large industrial fishing fleet and the extraordinary abundance of the predatory giant Humboldt squid (“Red Devil”, Dosidicus gigas) in coastal waters. This squid normally found from southern Chile to California, seems to be extending its range as far as the coast of Western Canada and Alaska.The governments and the industrial fishery, in turn, blame the situation on oceanographic phenomena, meaning ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation), climate change and global warming.
The exiguous catch of hake from one fishing boat and three men is classified according to value in s...
The exiguous catch of hake from one fishing boat and three men is classified according to value in small, medium and larger fish.
Small-scale fishermen spend long hours at sea under harsh weather conditions searching for an ever d...
Small-scale fishermen spend long hours at sea under harsh weather conditions searching for an ever decreasing supply of fish.
Fishermen deal with entanglement of large fishing nets  but very few fish.
Fishermen deal with entanglement of large fishing nets, but very few fish.
The FAO in its “State of the Word Fisheries and Aquaculture – 2010” ominously summarizes the situation of small fishermen and their communities in connection with climate change and the lack of fishing opportunities:
“World Fisheries and fisheries-dependent economies, coastal communities and fisherfolk are expected to experience the effects of climate change in a variety of ways. These include: displacement and migration of human populations; effects on coastal communities and infrastructure due to sea-level rise and changes in the frequency, distribution or intensity of tropical storms; and less stable livelihoods and changes in the availability and quantity of fish for food.
The vulnerability of fisheries and fishing communities depends on their exposure and sensitivity to change, but also on the ability of individuals or systems to anticipate and adapt. This adaptive capacity relies on various community assets and can be constrained by culture, current institutional and governance frameworks or marginalized access to adaptive resources. Vulnerability varies between countries and communities and between demographic groups within society. Generally, poorer and less empowered countries and individuals are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the vulnerability of fisheries is likely to be higher where the resources already suffer from overexploitation, the ecosystems are degraded and the communities face poverty and lack sufficient social services and essential infrastructure.”
Fish-cleaning ladies  often the wives of the fishermen  scale and gut fish for tips from customers a...
Fish-cleaning ladies, often the wives of the fishermen, scale and gut fish for tips from customers at the cove.
A family of sea lions at  El Membrillo  anxiously waits for trash fish and fish guts to be tossed in...
A family of sea lions at "El Membrillo" anxiously waits for trash fish and fish guts to be tossed into the sea.
Fishermen have long-standing religious and patriotic traditions. At “El Membrillo” Fishing Cove of Valparaíso, every year in June the fisherfolk celebrate the festivity of Saint Peter, the fisherman, an occasion they use to thank their protector for the previous year’s catch and to pray for a bountiful catch during the coming year. The festival includes plenty of music, singing and costumed dancers (see video below). Saint Peter’s statue is taken from its pedestal, placed on a boat and paraded around Valparaíso Bay along with hundreds of small fishing boats decorated with garlands and flowers.
Statue of St. Peter  the fisherman  at  El Membrillo  fishing cove. The commemorative plaque on the ...
Statue of St. Peter, the fisherman, at "El Membrillo" fishing cove. The commemorative plaque on the base of the monument lists the names of fishermen dead at sea.
Dominican seagull poses at El Membrillo fishing cove. In the background can be seen part of the Valp...
Dominican seagull poses at El Membrillo fishing cove. In the background can be seen part of the Valparaíso Port facilities.
Peruvian pelican patiently waits for some fish discards.
Peruvian pelican patiently waits for some fish discards.
In September, just before the start of the festivities celebrating Chile’s independence day (Sept. 18th) the fishermen hold a giant fried fish sale at the cove where the general public can enjoy food, drinks and a joyful artistic show. In the face of adversity the fishermen seem a hopeful community.
Many Peruvian pelicans are residents around the fishing cove and largely feed from live fish from th...
Many Peruvian pelicans are residents around the fishing cove and largely feed from live fish from the sea, but also take hand-outs from the fishermen.
However, the uncertainty remains: would prayers and religious parades, singing, dancing and artistic shows be enough to help sustain the livelihood of the small-scale fishermen and their communities? Obviously, the solution to the problems of diminishing fish stocks and displaced coastal fishermen goes far beyond that. Facing the problems at the global eco-systemic level is widely recognised as an urgent necessity.
More about Smallscale fishermen, El Membrillo, Artisanal fisheries, industrial fisheries, ENSO
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