This is a short post to recount a conversation I had with a local Loco diver I met 3 weeks ago. I apologise for the disparity among the sentences, but I am pretty sure you can stick the ideas together from the conversation and draw your own conclusions. Hopefully it will be a good illustration of the common opinions and mindsets I experienced among fishers up and down the Chilean coast.
- Me: So, how come you’re not fishing today?
- Fisher: It’s holiday season, there is no need today, I have a big boat that I use for tourist trips, and a restaurant that makes me money.
- Me: But do you still fish for Loco?
- Fisher: Yes, I have a diving licence in the local syndicate. I now dive when I want a few more pennies, usually when the tourists disappear.
- Me: So there are still enough Loco to make it worthwhile.
- Fisher: Hmmmm, well, there are Loco, it depends where you get them from. We are supposed to fish in given areas under our licences. There are Loco in these areas, but they are a lot smaller than many years ago and there are not as many as before.
- Me: When you say “supposed to….”. You mean sometimes you don’t fish in these areas?
- Fisher: Oh yes, we generally fish wherever, even though we are supposed to fish in our given zone (fisher laughs). I mean there is no one to stop us and we need to make a living some how.
- Me: Do you not want to follow the regulations in terms of conserving the Loco population?
- Fisher: When you compare the Loco today to what it was when I first started fishing you realise it’s completely disappearing. In the old days it was a real goldrush, we fished everywhere, everyday. We used to sit on mountains of Loco, waiting for the exporters to come and helicopter them up to Santiago for export. Now we are lucky to have a good catch from one day to the next. That’s why we still fish anywhere. We need to, otherwise we would not make any money. It’s our livelihood. If we were restricted in our fishing, we would make even less and have nothing to bring to our families tomorrow.
- Me: But what happens if you get caught?
- Fisher: Haha, nothing really, normally they take our names and then warn us not to do it again….Haha, that’s if we can’t pass them a regalito (little present) and continue with our day.
- Me: Don’t you think if you stuck to your licence areas that the Loco population could recover with time – perhaps one day even existing as it did in the “gold rush”?
- Fisher: Maybe, but then what about today? We need to make money today as well. We don’t have the luxury of waiting til tomorrow, next year, ten years. We need to catch today! Now that there are fewer Loco, it means that the price is good as there are not a lot of them around. Each Loco is more expensive, the fewer of them there are.
- Me: Don’t you think that attitudes like that are just making the situation worse? Overfishing to increase the value of the Loco?
- Fisher: Perhaps, but like I say, we need to make money from somewhere.
- Me: Is there anything you think could be done to help regenerate the populations of Loco and to stop people fishing outside there given areas?
- Fisher: Perhaps, I think so. I have an idea about trying to produce the Loco in cages. Not from eggs but ranching them.Collecting small individuals and then growing them up to large adults. If they were in cages it would mean that people could not poach them and it would mean the quantity of the product was roughly known. This would give the cage owner confidence in his product and therefore would reduce the need for him to fish illegally for Loco.Really though this is a dream at present. We need to know such ideas would work. If not, we will have no confidence in such projects and we would still fish everywhere. Really, deep down I think people will always tend towards overfishing, because it means money, and people are generally greedy. Once we actually tried to pay someone to manage our specific fishing area. It worked for a while but then poachers came and instead of trying to fish discretely, they just paid off the guard of the area and were allowed to fish it regularly at night (until we found out).
- Me: So poaching is a real problem? How much so?
- Fisher: Yes, everyone poaches – after all we are all black cats in the night! We all know that we all poach each others Loco, but it works ok as there is a mutual respect. We know we all need money, and the only way to gain that is to fish illegally. I would say that at present there are about 40 members of our local syndicate. There are probably about 20 non-syndicate poachers that fish both our protected and fished areas. In addition, members of the syndicate poach in the protected areas, so really, in total that’s a lot of poaching!
- Me: So, ten years from now, what do you think the situation will be?
- Fisher: I will have sold my licence by then. There are fewer and fewer Loco and I am getting old as well. I am also lucky enough to have made my money in the Loco gold rush years ago. That’s why I now have my boat and restaurant. I think in years to come, here there will be fewer Loco divers. Fishers will either have to search for other work or fish other poorer species. It’s hard being a fisher but it will get harder.
Apart from the fact this fisher had the foresight to use his Loco goldrush money to invest in a boat and restaurant, this conversation that I had was fairly typical. Fishermen generally thinking only about today, worrying about money, but not being able to invest confidence in conserving resources for tomorrow . It’s sad but in some ways understandable. When your money comes from fishing, that’s what you need to do – fish!
As I have mentioned in previous posts, one big problem is the lack of punishment / policing that exists throughout Chile. Apart from the long term ecological investment (which is often overlooked for shorter term gains), There is no incentive for fishers to stop or reduce their fishing effort. Unless this changes it would appear that poaching and overfishing will continue.