Fishing Underwater

Here in Kino Bay, in addition to traditional gillnets and handlines, many fishermen are dive fishermen.  Popular species targeted by dive fishermen include: lobster, octopus, some reef fish, and penshells (somewhat similar to scallops).  For these fishermen, diving underwater includes different equipment than the SCUBA tanks you and I might be used to. Boats come equipped with an air compressor, connected to a keg, and then connected to a long thin hose with a regulator on the end.  The diver dives with the regulator in his mouth and air is pumped through the small hose, which connects him to the boat while he swims or walks along the bottom collecting items and placing them in a bag.  Bags are then passed up to the boat as they fill. From speaking with divers, the amount of time they spend underwater varies depending on temperature and depth, but often they will stay under for 2-3 hours between breaks, and sometimes may spend 8-10 hours underwater in a day.

One morning, our class broke into small groups and went out with fishermen diving for penshells in the Infiernillo Channel.  On my boat, there was one diver and two men that stayed on the boat operating the air compressor, moving the boat to follow our diver, and cleaning the penshells. It was very impressive to watch how efficient the whole system was. Those on the boat had to coordinate loading and unloading bags, cleaning penshells, following and attending to the diver, and manning the equipment. My classmate Luli and I even helped out cleaning penshells, but we were so slow, we probably threw a wrench in their efficient system.

Talking with different divers around town though also illustrated the risks that come with this type of fishing.  Most learn how to dive just through experience, with no formal training.  And, divers may dive as deep as 30 meters.  Most divers have suffered minor negative effects such as limb pain or hearing loss, and all of them know other divers that have suffered paralysis or even death from decompression. A few years ago, a new species of deep water penshell was discovered which is extremely valuable but is found at depths of 30-40 meters.  Divers began taking risks in diving for this species, and the amount of injuries from decompression have increased.  After years of health problems and petitions from the community, the government put a decompression chamber in Kino two years ago, and divers told me that it is used frequently. The government has also begun to provide classes and training on diving and 90 divers have been trained (out of 200 divers in the community).  Other risks include air compressor failures or  hoses cut by propellers, which are riskier at deeper depths

The skills learned by these divers are important.  We were able to meet a group of divers who have used their knowledge of working underwater to perform underwater biological monitoring.  These divers will now visit fishing areas or protected areas to monitor fish or invertebrate abundance, as well as sea lion or sea turtle populations.  These divers are a natural choice for this work since they know the different areas and underwater conditions and species from years of diving. Speaking with these divers was interesting, as they shared the benefits of this work-including seeing new areas and learning new things. In addition, these divers told us how doing monitoring work and observing different populations has made them more conservation minded as fishermen.