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Foto 30 - Chica _futucando_ o buraco do polvo_edited.jpg

Fighting to guarantee women's space in the Barra Grande fishing industry

I met Chica through Tonton, her husband and president of the Maraú Fishermen's Colony. Always mentioned with great affection and gratitude by the fisherwomen, Tonton proved to be a dedicated and generous representative of the colony. He  told me about his wife, who despite not being “colonized,” is an important presence among the fisherwomen of Barra Grande.

Chica is 54 years old and is a teacher at the Municipal school. Fishing is her greatest passion. As she says:


“You can invite me for any kind of fishing and I’ll join you! If you invent a new form of fishing, whatever it is, just call and I’m in!”

I love fishing

For Chica, fishing is linked to her childhood and youth, when her whole family fished together, when the nativo way of life revolved mainly around the activity. She learned to fish with her parents and other relatives. During her childhood, fishing was not only a way to guarantee food, but was also a form of fun, family connection, collective identity, and a means of generating income to buy other food staples.


Married to the president of the Z 62 fishermen's colony, fishing is a big part of Chica's life: whether in practice, as she goes fishing with her relatives every evening on the bridge, and when she's not in class in the morning, catching octopus in the tides; or in the life of her husband, who lives exclusively from fishing; or in the political issues surrounding fishing in the region.


As she tells:

“I come from a family of fishermen, and the family I made is also a fishing family, only my children are not.”

Chica fishing

I joined Chica many times when she went fishing for octopus in the coral reefs, and when she went fishing for fish on the bridge, and I was able to observe her leadership position in relation to the other women fishermen, who see her as their representative. Once, sitting on the bridge, a small boat of men was throwing the net very close to their poles, and one of the fisherwomen asked Chica to intervene. First, Chica confronted the men, informing them that net fishing was prohibited there and that if they stayed, they could lose their nets. After the confrontation, Chica returned to the fisherwoman who had called her and said:

“Don't you have a mouth to talk with? Do you have to call me to do it?”

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Chica and the bicheiros

Chica's comment  portrays her presence in women's fishing in Barra Grande. Despite the fact that she doesn’t claim leadership, she is seen as a reference for the fisherwomen, and is always present and in contact with them. For her, all are equal, and all have the same power to claim their rights. Chica defended the  women's fishing space in other moments as well. Frequently, there are men who try to place their nets very close to the bridge, even though there is legislation that establishes a distance of 200 meters from the bridge for net fishing. According to the colony president, there are two laws that regulate the practice of nets on that pier: the first is a federal law that prohibits the practice of net fishing on bridges where passengers are boarding and disembarking, as it puts vessels at risk; the second legislation is a municipal decree that establishes the distance of 200m towards the ocean from the bridge for the placement of fishing nets.

Net fishing near the bridge is perceived by the women as a great disrespect, since when the net is placed, the fish are caught up, and do not reach their hooks. The idea is that if women's space is mostly restricted to onland fishing, this limited space should be protected for them, since men, in general, fish from boats. Furthermore, the net is an exclusively male type of fishing, due to the physical effort required to use it well. Boat fishing is also mostly the domain of men, since women do not have the flexibility to go out to sea but must remain on land where they are able to care for the home, children, and relatives.

Chica cleaning the fish

For the women we spoke with, fishing from the bridge, the mangroves, or at the reefs still allows them to fulfill their social role of domestic and family care. Female fishing in Barra Grande seems to present a contradiction: on the one hand, the fisherwomen are well known and respected by the community, by owners of tourist restaurants, and by tourists who have fun taking pictures with them on the bridge. Yet they experience constant conflicts with fishermen, who invade their fishing spaces, threatening their physical and symbolic territory, and/or with tourists or those working in the tourism sector who see them as liable to disrupt the smooth functioning of tourism, or to environmentally degrade the tourist destination.

Unlike most women, Chica also fishes from a boat, but only when accompanied by a man “who takes the boat”, usually her husband, or a friend who sometimes takes her and Lia. Most fisherwomen in Barra Grande say they don't fish that way either because they get bored or because they don't like that type of fishing. Chica says she loves going out to fish in the open sea though, and that she misses it when she can't go with one of her fishing buddies. However, Chica's family fishing tradition has not so far been adopted by the new generation of her children and grandchildren. As she says, none of her children are fishermen, and she believes that her grandchildren will also have different lives, not connected to the ocean like she is. Chica explains that she herself never encouraged them to pursue a fishing life since. Despite being her greatest passion, she does not wish this hard life on her children. Schooling and education can provide them with a more comfortable life.

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Bicheiro in the octopus hole

Fishing for Chica, as well as for most fisherwomen we talked with in Barra Grande, is ambiguous. It is a centerpiece of their childhood and part of their nostalgia for their youth. It  is the way to be with the family, to share affection and food, to maintain their traditional ways of life, and to reassert traditional knowledge and values that resist modernity. At the same time, this joy also represents a life without comfort, a hard life,  and with less possibility for upward mobility, which in turn had led the women to encourage their children to pursue other paths:

“My children, if they had grown up like me, fishing all day, maybe they would have done it, but I didn't encourage that, I sent them to school, and I always encouraged them to study.”

Thus, Chica remains between a past that feeds her identity, and a different future for her children and grandchildren, as the matriarch of a family that is moving away from identify as fishermen and women, where the children do not carry the knowledge traditionally transmitted in the family up until their parents' generation.

“It's not about fishing, on the contrary, I'm very proud to be a fisherwoman, despite not being colonized. If you ask me what I like to do with my life, I’ll say fishing. You can offer me a feast, but if you ask me to go fishing, I will go fishing. I love cleaning fish!”

Even when it comes to eating, many fisherwomen point out that some of their children and grandchildren do not even eat certain species of fish and shellfish. Some of their young family members even express a “disgust” related to eating octopus, despite the long-standing family connection to this type of fishing and food.

Chica’s octopus

That said, even as things are changing rapidly in the village and as their children chose different lives, women fishers are obviously proud of their work. In one instance where the women were being ridiculed by young men on the pier for catching only small fish, With a certain air of revolt, Chica spoke up, saying that she prefers small fish:

“They are so much better, so much tastier!”

Chica’s comment suggests her sense of pride in eating what she catches. While the women do not use more aggressive fishing techniques (artificial bait, net), and do not want to catch larger fish, they nonetheless feel disrespected because these techniques are present in their fishing spaces. The dynamic is not dissimilar to their feelings about the divers that take the octopus from the deep waters. 

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Chica digging the octopus hole

These women's struggles are myriad—-  confronting men who disrespect their fishing spaces, resisting tourists and environmentalists who seek to end their traditional ways of catching octopus, insisting on their control over the space of the bridge and on the quality and tastines of the small fish they catch, which feed the nativo community. In all of these battles, they are often led by Chica. The transition between past and present is especially marked by the expansion of capitalistic mentalities, which have transformed relationships in the region. Nativos and outsiders have different ways of relating to fish, to the idea of accumulation, to the environment and traditional ways of life. These tensions and the ways they have changed Barra is especially well exemplified by the (now defunct) Festa da Tainha (Tainha Festival).

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First Tainha Festival

In the old days, Chica says, there was an important festival in the city, which brought together fishermen from all over the region called the Festa da Tainha. During the fishing season, between May and August, the fish were so plentiful that the fishermen could catch a thousand kilos of tainha in a single day. The village threw a big party for the fishermen to celebrate the catch, have fun, and enjoy the food together. Various dishes were prepared from the tainhas. The fish fed the entire community. Over time, however, some residents attempted to transform the party into a money-making venture. The event had always existed outside of such a logic. Fishermen slowly started to stop donating their catches for the festival. Eventually, it stopped being held all together.


Approximately three years ago, there was an attempt to prohibit Chica and her fishing partners from entering the bridge to fish. As Chica tells it, after the renovation of the pier to better accommodate the arrival of tourists in the village, the ferry companies tried to prevent the women from accessing their customary fishing spot. They argued that the presence of fisherwomen on the sides and end of the pier hindered the flow of tourists. The fisherwomen had to fight to keep their fishing space. Lia's speech demonstrates the group's revolt:

“We’ve been fishing there since the old days, it’s not new. And now because tourists arrived and they fixed the bridge, we can’t fish anymore? It's wrong!"

No fishing on the pier

Chica told us that she herself went to talk to the mayor, who assured her that he had not set any restrictions on access to the bridge. However, so as not to disturb tourists, the women were only allowed to fish along the deepest end of the bridge after the arrival of the last boat at 6 pm. Chica is very aware of her rights and feels completely safe to defend her space in fishing as well as that of her friends. In another instance, a new man in the region started putting bleach in the octopus holes in order to catch them more easily. Aware of the environmental impact of this action, Chica complained to the president of the colony, her husband, who took care of the problem. Traditional communities, such as the fisherwomen of Barra Grande, have extractive relationships with their environments which still maintain biodiversity and preserve the environment of protected areas. However,  populations such as these are frequently disrespected and or suffer from prejudice. Some are even removed from their lands and prohibited from exercising their ways of life based on environmental discourses that disregard the positive impact they typically have.

God willing, we'll go fishing

Lia e Miracy
Loloca Bené e Marisa
Foto 42 - Samburá.JPG
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