A pilot experience with artisanal fishermen

From January to April Planeta Océano had a volunteer from the UK, Kanina Harty, join our team.

A pilot experience with artisanal fishermen

She went on a pilot experience on a boat with artisanal fishermen in north Peru. This is the blog post she wrote after her experience:

 

In February I went out on a local fishing boat, with Stefany from Planeta Océano. We wanted to find out how the fishermen work so we can figure out how they can make the transition into ecotourism. The boat was approximately a 12 metre wood built boat with very basic amenities… and no bathroom. For a fishing boat it didn’t smell as bad as you think it would. As we waited for one of the crew we acclimatised to our temporary home. He turned up by swimming from shore (naturally) and we were ready to go.

 

We headed west away from the coast past two oil rigs, one temporary one attached to the largest buoys I’ve ever seen. One with the largest sun bathing sea lions I’ve ever seen. As we headed further west we spotted some dorsal fins of small sharks and even the back of a small sperm whale. By the afternoon the boat started to slow and it seemed we had hit the spot. We asked the fishermen if they had a GPS system on board, one of them pointed to his heart and his head. They’ve been navigating these waters, each of them, for decades. We knew we had come to the right spot as almost every minute we heard a splash. Mobula rays of all sizes were leaping in the air. I even saw a double spinning backflip. It was amazing! But trying to get any photographic evidence of this was impossible!

 

We saw a few fin tips very close to the boat so didn’t hesitate to get in the water to take a closer look. These were mobulas about 1.5 – 2metres, very inquisitive. They kept circling around to have a look at us. At one point one crept up on me from behind -which was a bit of a shock- and I promptly found a snorkel full of water. I never get tired of the graceful and peaceful nature of these wonderful animals and love spending time in the water with them.

 

Well, our time was up and we had to leave. Everyone, even those left on the boat, were buzzing from the experience.

 

We moved away from this area hearing and catching more glimpses of jumping mobulas. This meant it was now time to watch the fishermen do what they do. It’s not like on the Discovery Channel when they press a button and the net flies out of the boat and that’s it... three of them methodically put out the net taking about 30 minutes. We drifted down current and quickly lost sight of the first marker buoy. When all the net was in place we just had to wait. It was dark by now and we were told the net would be brought in at 2am, so it seemed like a good time to bed down.

 

A bed was made for us on deck now that the net is in the water. This was an experience in itself as the boat was really rocky, the blankets had a slight tinge of fish and one of the fishermen was snoring really loudly very close by.

 

At 2am we were woken so we could see what they had caught. From the beginning it didn’t look good. Within moments a 1.2m mobula was our first big thing. We were told it wasn’t moving enough and couldn’t be saved. It was tough seeing its white belly lying there motionless after swimming with them only hours before.

 

The fishermen hauled in a few fish... then our first turtle. It was a big one. After a while on board, she recovered enough to try getting away, so we measured her and she went back in the water. Phew! This carried on and along with the noticeably small catch of fish there were two baby hammerheads (1m). Out of 11 mobulas caught 7 were alive and returned to the sea but 4 had no chance... then another female turtle already dead and turning blue.

 

This part was completely depressing and I hope that we can work with these fishermen to inspire change. By seeing their work first-hand we know how they operate, and can now outline what we have to do and how we may go about implementing the changes to get this project moving.