QUEULE, Chile — One beautiful morning in late spring, the ocean’s bounty had been especially plentiful, yet Luis Baez was in a foul mood.
At dawn, dozens of fishing boats under his stewardship returned from a midnight outing, heavy with silvery-grey fish called southern rays bream. With clear skies forecast for days ahead, crews might have readied for another trip, but with southern rays selling for just 75 cents per kilo, another excursion wasn’t worth the trouble.
“The majority of these boats aren’t even registered to catch southern rays,” explained Baez, who is president of the Queule artisan fishermen’s cooperative, a small village on Chile’s central coast. “But the government has to bite its tongue or this becomes a social issue, and all these men take to the streets.”
Last year, frustrations spilled into the streets as artisan fisherman burned tires and blocked roads in opposition to a congressional debate over a new fisheries law, which they saw as tantamount to privatizing the country’s most profitable fisheries for the benefit of few powerful business interests. Undeterred by the outraged fishermen, legislators forged ahead and approved the law in December, making notable improvements in fisheries management — including a ban on the destructive practice of bottom trawling, or clear-cutting, vulnerable marine ecosystems.
Critics fear the new law, which took effect in February, will negatively impact artisan fishermen by exacerbating longstanding issues within the industry, including the continuation of a divisive quota system through which corporations could feasibly hold sway over independent fishermen in perpetuity. At stake is a share of the world’s seventh-largest export market of fish products.
Read the full story at Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting>>