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Fishers and Shellfish Gatherers in Protected Waters

Canavieiras, located in the south of Bahia, has more than 32,000 inhabitants and is the main municipality in the RESEX conservation area. Surrounded by the environmental preserve, a large part of its territory belongs to the conservation unit, and most of the reserve's beneficiaries are residents of the municipality and villages of Canavieiras. The municipalities of Una and Belmonte, on the other hand, have small areas located within the Reserve, but some of their residents live off what they extract from within the Reserve and are therefore also part of the RESEX.

Extractive Reserves are a type of federally-designated conservation unit that seek to guarantee the livelihoods of traditional populations and their culture, as well as the natural resources on which they depend. The Canavieiras Extractive Reserve, created on June 5, 2006, protects an area of 100,600 acres, made up of extensive areas of mangroves, coastal islands, rivers, and other marine environments. Around 700 families residing in the reserve make their living from shellfish extraction, fishing, and subsistence farming. However, the creation of the Reserve, and its ongoing protection, was marked by conflict. Because it aims to protect and guarantee the land and way of life of traditional fishing families, it challenges more profit driven forms of farming and harvesting (shrimp, cattle, eucalyptus), real estate speculation, and the aspirations of hotel chains seeking to expand their presence in the area.

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Canavieiras Extractive Reserve

Fonte: Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade.

Church located in the center of the village of Barra Grande - date unknown

One of the main impetus behind the creation of the RESEX was the increase in shrimp farms which by 2006 occupied nearly 200,000 hectares (SEAGRI, Government of Bahia, 2006). Shrimp farms pose a number of problems for fishermen, shellfish gatherers, and crabbers, as they deforest mangroves; fence off access to mangroves and piers. Insufficient storage leads to the escape of the exotic shrimp species Litopenaeus Vannamei into the river, causing the death of fish and crustaceans due to changes in water quality. The area also sawa reduction in the guaiamum population. Complaints about all of these issues were registered with the town hall beginning in 2002. But when these complaints were investigated by IBAMA officials, traditional fishers were threatened by the owners of the shrimp farms. Threats were also extended to those who led the movement to protect the area and even to their relatives and children. 

A second important conflict related to establishment and maintenance of the protected area is related to real estate speculation caused by tourism.The establishment of the RESEX prevents the sale of land within the established area to non-RESEX beneficiaries, a feature which guarantees the permanence of these populations in their territories of origin, and prevents the gentrification commonly caused by real estate speculation and the establishment of tourism.

RESEX against gentrification

The eventual establishment of the RESEX in 2006, the fruit of years of effort by the fishermen and fisherwomen themselves, with the support of NGOs, IBAMA, and universities, took place despite threats, violence, and constant sabotage from the municipal government. To this day, government officials do not support the conservation unit. Aligned with the owners of shrimp and cattle farms, as well as entrepreneurs from the tourist and real estate industries, the current mayor of Canavieiras has made his opposition known. He finances marches against the RESEX and voices his opposition to the RESEX in online forums. On some occasions, he has incited the population to oppose and fight the RESEX and its representatives.

AMEX - Associação Mãe dos Extrativistas de Canavieiras (Parent Association of Canavieiras Extractivists) emerged in 2009 as a grassroots organization with a democratic character. Its aim was to support the administrative processes of the conservation unit and, at the same time, organize the various groups of extractivists that existed within the demarcated territory. The AMEX currently represents 9 communities and 13 associations and organizations of extractivists who live in the reserve, with around 2,500 beneficiaries.

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Port of Canavieiras

Managed by the fishermen and shellfish gatherers themselves on a voluntary basis, the AMEX's management nucleus is currently composed of an eleven person leadership council. João Barba, Silvia, Luana, Lu, Elialda, Viviane, Ernesto, Tauara, Gabriel, Luan, Lefigênia, Mara, Otacílio, Eric,  Carlinhos  (Carlos Alberto Pinto dos Santos, current President of the National Commission for the Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples and Communities), Gesiani and many others who are committed to the fight for the rights of traditional peoples, even if they don't have defined positions or hold formal employment at the AMEX. 

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Fishing boats on the Patipe River

As Gesiani explained, when initiatives and projects are approved and are awarded grant funding, the people who had been working on a voluntary basis take on responsibility for that project and start to receive a salary, which they often chose to share with other colleague volunteers. In this way, "The association takes care of all its children," as people commonly say.

AMEX headquarters

Located in a beautiful old house  in the historic center of Canavieiras, the headquarters of the AMEX Association was naugurated on 29/05/2023. The site is the physical embodiment  of the Association's achievements. Occupying the former mansion of a cacau plantation baron, as Gesiane told me:


 "Now it's in the hands of the community."

The house was bought by a long-time partner and supporter,  who stipulated that the AMEX would allocate any budget available for rent to a fund that could be used to finance higher education for the fishers’ and farmers' children. The house is spacious and comfortable enough to accommodate staff, visitors, and children who need to accompany their families to meetings and work that takes place there. With vibrant colors and paintings of fishermen, shellfish gatherers, and farmers, the space is light, cheerful, and relaxed both visually and experientially. Autonomy, community empowerment, and refuge are present in all AMEX initiatives, and being within the space with the members is a lesson in solidarity and community building.

To support fishermen's autonomy in getting the General Fishing Register, AMEX offered a course to teach community leaders how to issue the RGPe. Since then, a young man, the son of a fisherman, has been helping fishermen and fisherwomen to become regularized.

Through the Bahia Produtiva program, the associations that comprise the AMEX currently have 6 projects underway, totalling approximately R$600,000. Although each project is linked to a community, in order to promote equity between the various member communities, there is an effort to extend any benefit to all, to the greatest extent possible.

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Santo Antônio de Atalaia Church

For example, The Community-Based Tourism Project, linked to the Association of Fishermen, Shellfish Gatherers, and Residents of Atalaia, aims to improve houses for families seeking to rent them to visitors, purchasing bed and bath linens and kitchen utensils, in addition to paying for a boat to transport tourists. The Project to equip the Belmonte Processing Unit, linked to the Association of Fisherwomen and Shellfish Gatherers of Belmonte, aims to purchase refrigerators and machinery that complement the processing unit already in operation in the community. The Coconut Factory Project, linked to the Association of Residents, Fishermen, and Farmers of Puxim da Praia, proposes the construction of a factory for products derived from coconut, the community's main crop. The Ice Factory, linked to the Association of Fishermen and Shellfish Gatherers of Pedras de Una, aims to have an ice-producing factory that serves the entire RESEX, as ice is an essential item needed for storing fish. The Community Garden Project, linked to the Dragas Farmers Association, proposes structuring family farming production for commercialization and inclusion in programs such as school meals. And, the Fisheries Project, linked to the Z-20 colony, includes the purchase of a refrigerated truck for adequate transport of products, personal protective equipment for shellfish gatherers, and improving the infrastructure of the fish market in the municipality of Canavieiras.

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Belmonte Processing Unit

In addition, the AMEX is currently helping to run other government and private sector programs: The Technical Assistance and Rural Extension Program (ATER) to support 540 farming families is a source great pride for AMEX, since it is the first association in Bahia to provide technical assistance on its own, based on the training of its members. The Porto Sul Project, in partnership with the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), was established under the Socio-Environmental Commitment Agreement, as a compensatory measure for the impacts of Porto Sul, a massive port under construction in the region. It entails the creation of a laboratory and the training of young people from the community to analyze water and soils. The National Rural Housing Program (PNHR), supports a qualified institution (AMEX) to evaluate applications for the construction of houses to be built and acquired at accessible prices, interest rates, and installments to the low-income community. This partnership will allow for the construction of 200 houses for residents of the RESEX. The AMEX was also awarded funds from the Bolsa Verde,  a Ministry of the Environment program that allocates  monthly stipends, to families that preserve the mangroves.

Meeting of the Dragas Women’s Small Farmers' Association

Thus, the Mother Association of Extractivists of the Canavieiras RESEX welcomes, cares for, and guides its member bodies, supporting and advocating for better conditions for the fishermen, shellfish gatherers and farmers of the RESEX. Despite the constant conflict with businessmen, ranchers, and politicians opposed to the conservation unit, AMEX has resisted. It  has become a positive reference point for community political engagement throughout the country. Through the RESEX, fishermen, shellfish gatherers, and farmers have guaranteed their means of survival, their territory, and generated respect for their way of life.

RESEX rules

In Canavieiras, there are two main types of fishing: boat fishing on the ocean and mangrove fishing. In the sea, fish are caught with a line, reel, through diving, and with a net, or with a tarrafa and solenca (a line fishing technique without a sinker) in the rivers. This type of fishing, mostly done by men, brings home fish and shrimp that are often cleaned and sold by the women. Mangrove fishing, practiced by both men and women, involves catching shellfish and crustaceans in the mangroves, the main species in the region being aratu, a crab species, and to a lesser extent, oysters, sururu, lambreta and moape. These shellfish are predominantly processed and sold by women, an activity which reflects the ways in which they are  more tied to the home, due to caring for the household and children. Therefore, women's fishing in Canavieiras is mainly in the mangroves and in the processing of their catches and that of their husbands, fathers, sons, and relatives.

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Fishing boat

In the RESEX of Canavieiras, women's fishing roles vary  between those who go fishing or harvesting and those who process the fish. These divisions, however, are somewhat blurred in practice, as some women both catch fish and process it. Sometimes, a woman might be  be only temporarily focusing on processing due to the need to care for young children or dealing with an illness but later will return to the mangroves. Nonetheless, and there is still a need to to identify as a fisherwoman due to the need to obtain the RGP - Registro Geral da Pesca (General Fishing Registration), since the government does not recognize processing work alone as fishing but requires registration as a fisher to be linked to some type of catch. As a result, the women who do important processing labor live between legal categories, without a clear path to being recognized as artisanal fisherwomen.

Islandia  - Fisherwoman

Women's Network against Structural Machismo
Communities in the Canavieiras Extractive Reserve
Crab, Siri and Aratu
Processing and Selling
Living from the Mangrove: Embarracar
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