April 17, 2019
Nestled between the Gulf of California and the mountainous landscape of the Sonoran Desert, lies Puerto Libertad. A beautiful town that has developed along the shores of the Gulf and is characterized by its strong fishing history, and more recently by the presence of a photovoltaic power plant. As we drove into town from a desert road lined by blooming Palo Verde, Ocotillo, and Cardonas, the first thing we noticed were the old smokestacks of the plant rising above the other buildings of this small community. However, as we entered the town, more noticeable was the line of fishing pangas along the beach, done for the day due to unusually high winds forming white caps on the turquoise waters. Despite this earlier arrival, the beach was busy with fishers working to unload their catch. Our visit fell during Semana Santa (holy week leading up to Easter), and there was definitely a feeling of the holiday and relaxation around the town.
View of Puerto Libertad from a nearby mountain
Pangas along beach in Puerto Libertad
Our destination was the home of Gabriel Lopez, president of a successful family fishing cooperative of 6 in Puerto Libertad. Gabriel is an enthusiastic, generous man, and a well full of knowledge of Puerto Libertad’s fishing community and history. While sharing stories and insights into the intricacies of managing a successful cooperative, he worked alongside his family members to prep the catch of fish and clams that will be sent to Contramar, an up-scale restaurant of which he supplies all of the seafood in Mexico City. Gabriel’s well-earned pride in his family, town, and work is obvious as he shares stories of their efforts to make their work sustainable and successful.
Fish ready for shipment
Red Clams filtering sand out in saltwater before packaging
One highlight of our visit was the opportunity to try some of the cooperative’s catch through a shared meal with the family. They generously prepared Yellowtail and Red Clams for us to taste from recent catches. Gabriel and his partner, Graciela, shared with us that cooking the fish over hot coals was a traditional method of preparing fish in Sonora. The fish is rubbed with spices like garlic, herbs, paprika, and lime, and grilled over hot coals. While we waited on the fish to cook, we tried the famous clams of the region, sold for around $20 per clam. Gabriel shows us how he breaks them open with the knife, and Coyler and Joshua bravely tried it out for themselves (and were fairly successful!). Our appetizer was served with lime, salt, hot sauce, and a tomato and clam juice and is eaten straight out of the shell. For a few of us, this was our first time trying clams, and we were lucky enough to try the best in the world. The fish, near done, was rubbed with a creamy sauce and when it was finished cooking was served on fresh corn tortillas with a special warm pico de gallo. Needless to say, this will probably be the best and freshest fish tacos and clams we will ever have the opportunity of eating. Made even more unique and special because of the efforts of the fishers and family who caught our dinner and who opened their home to provide us with knowledge of their town’s ecosystem, history, and fishing practices.
Gabriel preparing the Yellowtail
Yellowtail cooking over hot coals