Last Saturday morning I got a call from Neu who had, as is his way, left the house at the crack of dawn to go down to the beach, even though he isn’t able to fish any more, the habit of a life time cant be shaken off by a doctors note. Neu was ringing to tell me to come down to the beach as an illegal fishing boat had been captured by IBAMA and was being brought back to Canto Verde where a growing crowd was waiting for them.
Having eaten a hasty breakfast and slapped on the sun cream I set off, a little nervous for what I was about to witness.
Understandably the people of Canto Verde feel very angry towards the illegal fishermen, they are the first link in the chain of those responsible for the destruction of a once bountiful natural resource, the spiny rock lobster, on which the families of Canto Verde depend. Illegal and unregulated fishing is threatening the future of the species and consequently the way of life of the licensed fisherman is in jeopardy.
In 2004 a illegal boat was brought back to the beach, they arrived at night and virtually the whole village was out to meet them, the mood of the crowd was ugly and the situation was extremely tense for some time with very real fears for the safety of the illegal crew, finally the police were able to calm the crowd and the men were removed but few wish to see a repeat of those scenes.
On the Saturday when I arrived at the beach there was a crowd, not as big as I’d expected but a crowd non the less. I spoke to one of my son’s friends who told me the boats had been moored off shore for some time, having learnt from previous experience IBAMA would not bring the crew off the boat until the police arrived.
I was informed that Alexandre of the Chico Mendes Institute (ICMBio) had managed to secure an agreement with IBAMA that they would carry out patrols in the MPA of Canto Verde on two occasions every month, considering the recent governmental announcement that there was no money and no operatives from IBAMA to carry out further patrols (all resources having been sent to protect the Amazon from illegal logging) what he achieved was nothing short of a miracle.
The size of the crowd was in constant flux but gradually as the wait continued and the sun climbed higher the numbers began to dwindle. A sudden increase in the crowd when two police vehicles drove down onto the beach, quickly dispersed when the police announced that they would do nothing until Alexandre arrived and as he was in Fortaleza there was no way of telling when that would be.
For several reasons including the heat of the day, the fact that many of the village men were out at sea and the presence of the police, the crowd that remained was quite subdued. When Alexandre arrived he spoke via radio with the IBAMA boat and it was agreed that apart from the illegal diving gear which IBAMA would hand over to Alexandre, nothing else would be landed on the beach. The Police and IBAMA operatives explained to what was left of the crowd that the illegal crew would be taken into custody and that they and the boat owner will face charges, the boat will be impounded. The fear is that the boat will be returned to the owner who will quickly re-equip it and return to fishing but this is a matter for the courts as opposed to the individuals representing the various government departments on the beach. Alexandre offered assurances that the IBAMA patrols will continue and that although it will take time, he hopes that the message will get through to the illegal fishers that Canto Verde is protected, it wont stop them fishing completely but hopefully will stop them from fishing here. Obviously that isn’t an answer to the problem of illegal fishing, but there is no point in having an MPA if it isn’t protected, so it’s a start in the right direction and Alexandre must be congratulated for securing the patrols when many thought that was impossible.
The fishermen of Canto Verde were pleased by the capture of the illegal fishing boat, but non were under the illusion that this one capture would make a significant difference to the situation. The men refer to the illegal fishers as pirates and are aware that clearing them from the seas will take considerably more than the odd patrol.
Most of the men Neu has spoken to, have reported that after a slow start to the season their catch rate had begun to pick up, averaging roughly 10 kilos a week per boat. Compare this to the 80 kilos the captured boat had caught in one morning and bare in mind that this was a small catch for them, as they had only just begun their days work.
Less than a week on, 15 illegal boats using divers were fishing all over the area in which the licensed fishermen of Canto Verde had left their traps. Since their arrival the men of the village have not caught any lobsters, anything in their traps has been robbed. The number of pirate boats increases daily.
IBAMA promised to carry out another patrol in July, but it is clear that by then it will be too late for the men to recoup their losses, any lobsters that escape the divers will be migrating away from these waters by August.
Once again the law abiding fishermen are being robbed of their livelihood and lobster numbers are being brought to the point of collapse, while lack of political will and governmental infighting ensures that the pirates and the men who profit from them can, for this year at least, continue laughing all the way to the bank.
Canto Verde was created an Extractive Reserve (meaning the land belongs to the natives in perpetuity and cannot be sold off) and a Marine Protected Area (MPA) by President Lula in 2009.
The Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity (ICMBio) are jointly (with the community and other parties) responsible for the running of the reserve and Alexandre is the ICMBio representative for Canto Verde.
IBAMA: The Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources
© Claire Pattison Valente 2011.