Fishing is Life for Chira Residents

June 18, 2004

ISLA CHIRA, Puntarenas –Traveling to this island, in the Gulf ofNicoya, is like traveling back in time. Lifeis simple and tranquil – it is a life beforeNintendo games and movie theatres, a lifebefore malls and supermarkets.Isla Chira is one of Central America’slargest islands with five towns and about3,000 residents, most of whom survive offfishing.Residents wake up shortly before sunriseand head to the port to “sweep” theocean for bait: sardines or prawns. Theyspend the rest of their morning fishing,return home for lunch and head back out tosea in the afternoon.Although fishing is traditionally dominatedby men, in Chira, women fish alongsidethe men as multi-colored fishing boatsline up next to each other. Sometimes, morethan half the town is out fishing at once,leaving the area empty except for thesounds of children and pigs squealing, hensclucking and cows mooing.When the fish quit biting, the fishermenand women pull up their anchors andmigrate – all together – to a different spotand begin all over again.FISHING is a way of life for the residentsof Chira. If the fish populations arelow, their lifestyle and their livelihoods arein danger.María Trinidad Pérez, founder and expresidentof the Association of FishingWomen in the town of Palito, was born inChira and has been fishing almost herwhole life.“It’s not what it used to be,” she said,while grabbing a shiny sardine and jabbinga hook through its gaping mouth. “Thereused to be a lot more fish. To get two, threeor four fish in a day is a lot now.” Shethrows the bait overboard and iridescentfish scales stick to her dark hands like driedglue.In the boat next to hers, a man laysdown with the fishing line between his toesand a straw hat across his face shading himfrom the sun.Over-fishing has made life even moreeconomically hard on this tight-knit community.Beginning in June, there will be anobligatory three-month fishing moratorium,Pérez said, to help the fish populationregroup.According to a United Nations projectdescription sheet, “many fishermen do notrespect the three-month break (when fishingis not allowed), nor the established requirementsof the types of fishing nets permitted.”The government will provide subsidiesfor that time period, but as of late May,Chira residents were still not sure howmuch money they would receive.“The people either work on their homesor community projects during that time,” Pérez said. “My husband and I are thinkingabout going to San José to work, but we havetwo children in school.”After four hours of fishing, Pérez and therest of the fish harvesters return to shore tosell their catch. Anchors are dropped, knivesare brandished, throats are slit and fish gutsare thrown into the air to the delight of the circlingpelicans, vultures and seagulls.The tired workers trudge up the beach andline up to sell their fish, holding onto theircatch by the gills. The fish are weighed –names and prices are yelled out. Pérez sellsher four fish for a total of ¢5,400 ($12.50).Family members await husbands, wives,fathers and mothers coming in from fishing.Among them is Teodora Medina, patientlylooking toward the ocean, arms crossed, whileher three children play around her. She iswaiting for her husband Gabriel, who waslucky and caught several corbina.“It’s been three weeks and we haven’teven seen a corbina until today,” Medina said.“Today, they took out 90 kilograms of prawns.“They’re going to finish them off. They’regoing to finish off everything in the sea,” saidMedina, shaking her head.

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