Between a rock and a hard place

Neu and I had to go back to see his kidney doctor last Friday, we were apprehensive about this visit as we would be getting the results of Neu’s latest blood and urine tests, these would dictate whether or not the doctor would allow Neu to fish during the lobster season.
Neu doubted his own ability to fish, having been out a few days earlier for a fishing trip that was longer than any he had been on for a while, but shorter than the average lobster fishing day. By the time Neu returned to shore his legs were heavily swollen, he found the walk home painful and hard going as his legs felt like lead and the next day he was so tired he had to drag himself out of bed.
Despite this Neu is desperate to be out fishing, he like most of the other men in the village, believes that this year will be a good year for lobster owing to the heavy rain over the winter. Traditionally this does herald a good harvest, possibly owing to the increased nutrient run off coming from the land, boosting the food source for the lobster and therefore their breeding and growth rate. I understand the mens need to believe that this year will be different, without the lobster there really is nothing for the men, there is no alternative employment.
I on the other hand am quite pessimistic for the season, its not that I don’t think the lobster are out there but the compressor boats have been out in force throughout the closed season and the Government have announced that there is no more money for enforcement. The recent disclosure that deforestation in the Amazon has dramatically increased, has caused a mass movement of operatives from both IBAMA and The Chico Mendes Institute into those areas to deal with the illegal logging and there is no one left here to defend the lobster fishery even if there was funding. The chances of the men from here making a good catch throughout the season are very slim, they simply can not compete with the illegal fishers.
The use of oil and chemical drums in the illegal fishing of lobster has been increasing at an alarming rate since 2006 and continues to go unchecked (with no research being done on the toxic effects of these drums on the environment, on the lobsters that breed in them nor any possible effects on the ultimate consumers of these lobsters.) and I have grown accustomed to hearing the fisherman’s claims of a forthcoming “good season” against all factual evidence to the contrary.
A study of 11 boats from Prainha, monitoring their expenses and catch rates over the 2009 and 2010 seasons has proved beyond doubt that the boat owners are not making a living and are actually losing on their investments (traps, bait, food, boat maintenance, etc). Neu lost over R$1000 in the 2009 season, his loses in 2010 season were slightly less but only because he didn’t invest in new traps to replace those lost or damaged the previous year, he hasn’t actually made any profit from lobster fishing for at least three years.
Owing to the high rate of illegal fishing, those fishing legally (which includes all the men from Prainha) are surviving mostly on the unemployment payment they receive for the six months of the closed season, amounting to R$3000. They have traditionally supplemented this income during the rest of the year by fish catches, but owing to a change in the wording of the rules governing the closed season payment, the men are now ONLY permitted to fish for lobster and should be fishing for every month of the season. Added to that any licensed lobster fisherman reported as having landed a fish catch at any time of the year will lose his closed season payment which no one can afford to do. This ruling is particularly harsh on the men of Prainha as records kept in the village since the mid 1990’s show that the lobster have migrated away from here after the first two months of the season, after which the catch rate drops to such a low level that fishing is completely nonviable (although I and others would argue that fishing for lobster is completely nonviable anyway owing to the illegal fishing pressure).

Sadly Neu’s results showed a decline in his kidney function and most crucially for his ability to be out doing heavy work, his protein leak has gone off the scale again, it should read less than 141 mg but is over 9000. The doctor said there is no way Neu can be out fishing for even short periods of time, let alone a lobster fishing day which typically starts in the early hours before dawn around 1.30 am. and continues often until 5 or 6 in the evening.
Aside from coming to terms with his failing health, Neu now has a new battle on his hands, that of getting sickness payment. He is entitled to it as he has paid his contributions and the doctor has written that he is not fit to be fishing, but that doesn’t mean he will get the benefit. If he doesn’t get it we will be badly hit as he will also lose the unemployment payment for the lobster closed season, so its fingers crossed.

©Claire Pattison Valente 2011

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4 responses to “Between a rock and a hard place

  1. A rock and a hard place indeed. It’s sad and shocking to read about the way that life has changed for many of the families of Canto Verde. Wish I could do more than just write comments on a website to help… actually: what can people like myself do to help (aside from boycotting Lobster, which is a piece of cake when you’re on my salary)?

    PS: Please tell Neu that we’re hoping and praying that he can get back to full time fishing sometime soon.

  2. Hi Yomi,
    Thanks for your kind words, I will pass them on to Neu, he is finding it tough but we have to keep positive and hope that in the future he will be able to return to the work he loves.

    As to what you can do with regard to the fishing: I believe that the consumer is key to solving this problem. By being informed about the fish you buy, be it in your local market, supermarket or restaurant you can make a difference. If your favourite fish is on the endangered list, look at buying alternatives.
    How was the fish caught and where. Fishing practises can be very destructive both to the species being fished and to the environment, look for certificates of sustainability and buy only from sources who can guarantee their supply.
    Of course this does mean that you may have to pay more for the fish you eat, but we will pay the cost one way or another, either now in terms of expensive fish sustainably caught, or later when we have fished the waters beyond the point of recovery, this has already happened to some cod fisheries and many species really are on the brink of collapse.
    There are numerous bodies who offer advice for the consumer, the following may help you become more informed.

    http://www.eartheasy.com/eat_sustainable_seafoods.htm

    http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/…/seafoodwatch.aspx

    http://www.fishonline.org/

    Oh and next time you make it out, hopefully we will be able to share a lobster or two.
    Love C. X

  3. Just doing my big monthly shop (I do it online, cos I’m lazy like that), decided to try and be more responsible with regards to the fish that I buy. After checking fishonline.org, and the montereybay seafoodwatch page I’ve decided that it’s time to say goodbye to Tuna! A huge step for me, as it’s my favourite fish… let’s see if I can be true to my word.

    PS: the montery bay aquarium link above appears to be broken, here’s the correct link (I think):
    http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_resources.aspx

    • Well done you. I know what you mean about Tuna but it’s a great opportunity for you to explore different types of fish that you would probably not have tried otherwise.
      Thanks for the link too, I’ll get that up on the site. Once again well done, everybody who wises up, helps.
      Have you watched the film “The End Of The Line” ? It’s cheaply available on Amazon and well worth every penny, highly imformative and deeply shocking, I think it should be compulsive viewing.
      Do you think your internet shopping service would deliver out here? ha ha. Lets face it, even the post cant make it to us, we have to go and get it. Doing a monthly shop takes on a whole different meaning, monthly shopping adventure more like, all adds to the fun of life out here.

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