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Marisa, Loloca and Bené

The latest generation of women's artisanal fishing in Barra Grande?

Maria Lúcia, better known as Loloca, is the oldest sister. She is  50 years old, and only fishes octopus. The pier, she says, is boring. She learned how to fish the reef from her parents, and grew up catching octopuses and lobsters. Nowadays, she fishes both for enjoyment and to earn extra income for her family.


“Meu pai pegava peixe de calão, de rede, ali, quando ainda não tinha a proibição.” 

“My father used to catch fish with a net, over there, when there was still no prohibition.”

One of the only women from the younger generation, Loloca is a registered member of the colony, one of the few fisherwomen in the village who has not yet retired. Maria Inês, the middle sister, is one of the only two non-colonized fisherwomen in the group. Bené, as she is better known, is in the process of creating her registration. She did not do so in the past due to other employment ties, but now she wants to make it official.


Like Loloca, Bené says that octopus fishing is like a treasure hunt, a challenge, and that's what drives her. She catches the octopus because of the challenge it represents, which, in her opinion, does not happen when fishing with a rod, where you have to spend a lot of time standing still, just waiting. The two sisters claim that they need more excitement, and that fishing with a rod on the bridge does not meet these needs. “It's just so much waiting,” they exclaim. Marisa, the youngest sister of the three, is 44. Despite being “colonized,” she rarely can go out to catch octopus, as she is also busy with other household duties. Nonetheless, octopus and fish represent a supplementary income and an enormous pleasure for her as well. Unlike her sisters, Marisa also fishes with rods. She has the necessary patience for this type of fishing, but admits that what she really likes is catching octopus.

The Octopus

As the youngest in the group, Marisa uses the expression “achieve”, when referring to techniques and experiences from the past, reported by the older fishermen, but not experienced by her. When the group gathers, the older ones recount stories and experiences with great longing and joy. For example, they recall drying octopus, when there was still no refrigeration. They would stretch them on a piece of wood cut from the dende palm to dry in the sun, seasoned only with sea water itself.


As is common, when remembering techniques, they also recall recipes, as in Chica's stories:

  “And then we would eat it roasted over coals with a farofinha de dendê…yuuuum!!!”


Like octopus, fish were also caught in smaller quantities and preserved in salt for local consumption and sale. This was due to the absence of electricity in the village, which only had a motor generator that ran from 6pm to 10pm. These memories are often accompanied by expressions such as: "That was a good life!" These expressions show a certain nostalgia for a time when, despite the lack of technological comfort, the pleasure of everyday life was greater.

The Octopus in focus

The younger women like Loloca, Bené and Marisa, listen carefully to the stories told by their elders, and in some of the stories they chime in to include themselves in the memories. They remembered the big catches in their parents' camboas, and the pescas de calão. They participated by cleaning the fish:

“You started cleaning fish at seven in the morning and only finished at night."


Marisa's words are accompanied by an emphasis on abundance, which is no longer the case. Although they believe the village is still a place of abundant food, there are differences. These differences are not only linked to the volume of fish caught, but to the way everything used to happen: in groups, with everyone together, the abundance seemed to be greater than it is today.

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Marisa told us that she cleaned a lot of shrimp in her youth, and that this helped support her family. Her memory of seafood abundance stands in stark contrast to the almost absolute absence of the same species in the region today. While some changes in the village are most certainly related to ways of doing things, others are directly related to environmental transformations. The women frequently report a decrease in the number of various types of fish, lobsters are rare. There are less shrimp and they are fewer. 

Interestingly, the women also associate the drop in the amount of fish with environmental prohibitions. The rules around what can be fished and when, they complain, are very general and do not take into account the specificities of each region.

“Sometimes the environmental people get the time period for the prohibitions all wrong. Then when it is allowed, it's full of baby fish. They think that everywhere is the same, but it is not.”

And she also says:

“Before they banned things, there were plenty of fish here, crabs, but now they banned fishing, you don't see one. It is prohibition that is killing the animals.”

Overall, environmental conflicts in the region have grown, and for the younger fisherwomen, the environmental impositions imposed by legislation and tourists have been upsetting. Marisa claims that she no longer even goes to the coral reefs of Taipu de Fora, as she has repeatedly been attacked by tourists for stepping on the corals.

Looking for octopus in the corals

“That you can't step on the reef…… People, my grandparents, for more than 100 years, always walked on the reef and never broke it, never destroyed it, never ended it. It’s not us who are destroying it. I say to people, do you use sunscreen, which we didn't have here in the past? How many people are using sunscreen? So it's not us. It's them who pick up the shells that aren't meant to be picked up, because they will decompose there and become part of the corals.”

No stepping on the corals

The manager of Apa de Barra Grande, Érika Campos, confirmed there is no legal ban regardings walking on the reef. She went further, emphasizing that traditional communities have deep knowledge in terms of the best ways to care for and maintain their environments. The fisherwomen note that fluctuation in climate has always impacted the corals, highlighting that more fresh water from heavy rains naturally bleaches them; there are times when corals are even buried by sand. Overall, they demonstrate nuanced knowledge derived from long-term observation and understanding of seasons and cycles. Significantly, they place themselves and their way of relating to the environment in polar opposition to tourists or new residents who “just got here and already want to say what is right and wrong and how everything works.”

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They say that tourists often feed the fish in the coral reefs with industrialized food, and thus causing a huge imbalance in the food chain of the reefs. The dispute between tourists and fisherwomen thus plays out in several spaces, including on the reef. The space and the traditional ways of life of these women have also been threatened by new residents who, contradictorily, were attracted by an idea of "life closer to nature" but end up trying to impose rules and urban ways of life on the place, which in turn disregard and disrespect the traditional ways of life. Marisa, for example, told us about a new resident who arrived in the village who started a recycling campaign but now campaigns for nativos not to step on the corals. In addition to the way of life, they say that geographically everything has also changed. The fisherwomen’s climate memories recall a time when the marine landscape looked different.  


“In the past, the stretch of beach was much bigger, I remember that we used to run all over there.”

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Barrier of stones from restaurants by the sea

Now the beaches are full of stones placed by restaurants built very close to the water and which are hit daily by high tides.

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Thus, the new generations are experiencing a way of life in transformation. They are suspended between the past they didn't live in as adults, but which they know and have heard from elders was one of abundance and sharing and a present full of environmental regulations, tourists, and new residents who want to impose their ways of life and dream of single family land occupation. In this scenario, the youngest fisherwomen, already over 40, believe that the new generations are not interested in maintaining their ways of life. In a globalized and connected world, full of new needs, environmental regulations and technology, their children and grandchildren, in general, prefer and will continue to prefer a different lifestyle.

New generations

As they themselves reflect, if fishing is therapy for them, it is not for their children and grandchildren. Social media, internet, cellphones, are the current entertainment. Technological interaction replaces interaction with nature, the pleasure of being at sea, swimming in the lagoon, walking in the mangroves. Ironically, or perhaps contradictorily, the populations that traditionally occupied the land, living in it, from it and with it, are receding. New residents, who come from urban centers and bring with them other ideas of interaction with Nature, are moving in.

Lia e Miracy
Loloca Bené e Marisa
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