Humans are sentient beings and so we feel, perceive, and experience subjectivity. During the interviews we had with local fishermen, be it in casual conversations or interviews, I felt that it was very important to be aware of the skewed perspective that we ‘foreigners’ use to see the life of others. Opening our mind up helps to see the life of local fishermen through their own perspective. Very often, we tend to analyze people’s problems from our perspectives and forget theirs. Hence it is very important to stop, reflect and try to see the fishermen’s lives through their eyes.
Friday, 19th April. We just got to Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies, in Bahia de Kino, Sonora, Mexico. We were going to stay at the station for three days to work on our projects and explore the Kino area. In the morning we discussed a paper on the biogeography and biology of the Midriff Islands. This paper served as a good background for us to understand the technicalities of the area. After that, we met Polo, a used-to-be commercial diver-fisher who now does biological monitoring. He told us his life story, which was very important to help us understand the perspective of fishers around the Kino area. He was originally from Hermosillo and moved to Kino in 1978, and is the first generation of fishers in his family.
While we were walking along the beach discussing issues with Polo, we had the opportunity to witness a fishing panga boat speeding up the beach returning from a fishing trip. In that boat we saw scorpionfish, blue crabs, carnivorous sea snails, small sharks and skates. Most of us were concerned about the sharks as they looked tiny and were de-finned. We later learnt through interviews that fishermen receive the about 20 pesos per kg of fin or shark meat. While this does not encourage them to discard the shark body, they are getting almost nothing compared to the price of the shark fin that is sold at restaurants. Also of concern were the scorpionfish, as they seemed to be bycatch and were left on the boat by the fishermen.
We learnt from Polo, and later Noe, that fishers here in Kino face complex problems. In general, the work environment is not a very pleasant one due to ‘politics’ that occur in the fishing community. Obtaining a fishing permit is a bureaucratic process and many independent or free fishers fish illegally or for fish buyers. Having no personal permit puts some fishers at a disadvantage – these people are basically at the end of the ‘food chain’ in the fishing industry and get very little for the amount of work they do. Furthermore, in many cooperatives, the president of the fishing co-op tends to pocket an unfair proportion of the profits, leaving other co-op members unhappy and unwilling to be in a co-op. It is indeed upsetting to see that fishers do not get rewarded sufficiently for the work that they do, while processors or fish buyers face less work hazards and receive more money.
But who is to define fairness or unfairness? It seems that a consistent thread in the fishers’ tales is that they enjoy being out at sea and are happy interacting with the nature around them. Should fishermen be viewed as a subgroup of people who destroy biodiversity in the sea and is the culprit of declining fish stocks? Or are they just a predatory species present in a food web of many other species? I think understanding the perspectives of fishers like Polo and Noe is important. I really appreciated how Noe puts his perspective of being at sea: “The gulf is like the world’s aquarium, everyday I enjoy biodiversity little by little.” Despite the hardship at work, fishermen feel that their occupation is rewarding as they enjoy going out to sea. Most fishermen interviewed also cite tranquility and a nice living environment as reasons of why they love their home town or village. In our eyes, the fishermen’s lives seem harsh, but they might appreciate the nature of their job. Many of us urbanites spend thousands of dollars a year traveling to picturesque beaches, the very same places that fishermen live in. Perhaps life is a matter of perspective, and our happiness depends on our expectations. Being out here gives me a different perspective in life and allows me to appreciate life even more.
I love the story that Noe narrated when Shan Shan asked him to “tell a story”. One of the fisher’s son was involved in the ecology class that CoBi (Comunidad y Biodiversidad) organizes. During a birthday party, his dad brought home a turtle which he was about to kill and eat in celebration of the party. Upon seeing the turtle, the boy cried out to stop his father and insisted that he release the turtle. His dad was reluctant to release the turtle but eventually released it due to his son’s insistence. But upon releasing the turtle, he felt such a good feeling, as if he had just done a really good deed, one that he had never felt before. Since that day, he would release all turtles he caught as bycatch. It is indeed heartening to see that the conservation education programs targeted at children have an effect on changing the perspectives of fishers, and brings about a greater appreciation of nature.