Last Sunday there was a meeting of the fishermen in the village, it was in part to explain the new rules covering the fishing of lobster and more specifically the payment (known as the Seguro disemprego) that the lobster fishermen receive for not fishing during the closed season.
In the past the wording of the rules governing the right to this payment stated (in brief) that the men would be fishing for lobster during the season and not earning an income from any other work, and that they would not fish for lobster during the closed season.
The men have traditionally fished for other species of fish during the closed season and when lobster catches were low, this has provided them with a very necessary additional income.
This year the wording was changed, it now states (again in brief) that the men will not gain an income from any other work and in addition (and this is the bit that has so angered the men) they are not permitted to fish for any other species of fish at any time in the year.
The catch rates for lobster in the village have improved this year over last, but not for all. There are still a lot of men for whom the season will not have come close to providing them with an income equivalent to the minimum wage for the six months of the season. These men rely on catching fish, often simply to put food on the table. For them, the idea that they must remain at home, unable to work in any capacity during the six months of the closed season, is ridiculous and forces them into poverty.
There is a further ruling that no one fishes on a Sunday. Several men in the village have already been put on 15 day suspensions for breaking a rule they had previously been unaware of as being anything other than a rumour. I wasn’t at the meeting but Neu said the fishermen were furious and the situation became very heated. The man whose job description covers being responsible for reporting the men who don’t follow the rules, is a resident in the village, many of the men were very angry with him but he is in an impossible situation, if he doesn’t follow the orders given to him, he could lose his job.
There are many arguments around subsidy payments. Many people believe that subsidy payments simply do not work, certainly there are men who claim to be lobster fishermen simply to gain the unemployment payment, it could be argued that if the payment wasn’t in place there would be fewer fishermen and therefore less pressure on lobster stocks. Another argument is the financial drain on the state, is it just for the rest of society to be burdened with paying someone not to do something? (Especially if they then earning a living from doing something else).
I think subsidy payments, their introduction, rules and withdrawals need to be thought through with the utmost care, unfortunately it seems to me that many of the people who put these things in place, do so from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices a million miles away from the reality of the people whose lives they will affect. Living here, I am in no doubt that there are many families here who simply couldn’t survive on the income gained from lobster fishing and the unemployment payment alone. If they are forced to buy the fish to feed their families they will be living well below the poverty line, the effects this will have on health and welfare will in the future be a far heavier burden on the community and the state.
It has been said to me on more than one occasion that the men should wake up and realise that there is no future in fishing, perhaps they should but I would like to know what else they would do?

©Claire Pattison Valente 2011