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Some of the men here, Neu included, use a shallow net to fish from the beach. This involves swimming out with the net to a desired point, then gradually releasing the net while swimming further out to sea.

Once all the net is fully out, the fisherman swims back to shore, leqaving the net to drift with the current. Further down the beach, the man swims out and retrieves the net, pulling it in hand over hand. When he has it all gathered in, he swims back to shore, trailing the net and anything he has caught in it.

It is exhausting work and often leaves the fisherman with little or nothing to show for all his effort. On other occasions a good catch can be made, you just never know.

The other day, Neu was out fishing in this way, when the head of the local fisherman’s union came down onto the beach. Neu was waiting to go back in the sea and collect his net. The union official told him that a community further down the coast had contacted him earlier, asking him to spread the word that a fisherman was missing at sea. The man had been missing for 10 days and was presumed dead.

There were unconfirmed reports of a torso seen floating in the sea, near to here. If these reports were true, then it was probable that the body would wash up on this beach.

Neu said he felt sick and scared at the thought of having to return to his net, at the thought that he might have caught the body. I have fished with Neu in this way, and am often slightly unnerved at the thought of what fish might be caught, I don’t want to imagine how awful it must be to find a body.

Thankfully on this occasion Neu’s net contained only a few fish. He said he didn’t have the heart to continue fishing with the net and called it a day.  When ever we get reports of missing men, the whole village feels it. Of course for all of us here, for fishing communities everywhere, accidents at sea are the fisherman’s peril.

For Artisanal fishermen in Brazil, life jackets are a relatively new legal requirement. Many men still flout the law, for reasons of cost or bravado, sailing out for days without even a life buoy. Others comply with the requirement to carry life jackets, but never consider using them.

The navy, who are responsible for checking the men’s compliance with the regulations, do their best to impress upon the men the importance of using the basic safety equipment they have. Unfortunately it would seem that words alone are not enough.

Yesterday the word came through that what was left of the man’s body had washed up at Parajuru, a neighbouring community. He had been missing for 12 day’s. There was a sense of relief that his body had been found, something at least for his family to grieve over. Not so for the other fisherman who was reported to have gone down with the boat. May they rest in peace.

The fisherman’s peril is the unspoken dread of every fisherman’s family.

©Claire Pattison Valente 2008

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