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Recognition and gentrification in women's artisanal fishing

Dona Nane told me that I had to talk to Claudia, who she said was the best fisherwoman in the region: “No one gets away from her hook. She is awesome, you know?! I feel sorry for her, because she really is a fisherwoman, and one of the best, but she lost her registration because of their trickery there.'' Claudia calls herself a marisqueira, but what she really likes is to catch fish with her pole: pampo, traíra…

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Claudia with the fish

Claudia took a while to accept my invitation to go fishing together. In addition to being afraid of my status as a forasteira (the term that nativos use to describe more recent arrivals to the region), there were other elements that interfered with our meeting, as is always the case with fishing. The rainy weather made the trip to the rocks, which were very slippery, unfeasible; the tides sometimes prevented us from going. They were too high, too low, or not good for fish. When we finally went, after so many failed attempts, it was a spur of the moment decision. Just like the wait, the spontaneity of going fishing is part of this way of life. Little by little, Claudia taught me that you don't schedule a fishing trip with a date and time. Fishing instead happens based on the combination of a series of factors such as the climate, the tide, the availability of the fishers, the favorable family environment (someone to take care of the children, grandchildren and the elderly) and the absence of other paid jobs.

Dona Paula - Fisherwoman

Fishing on the Rocks

We met at the entrance to Cemetery Road around 7 am that day, and followed the path. Me, Claudia, and her dogs. I didn't know how many hours we would be there, and while I naively tried to ask Claudia about the plans for the day, I later realized that she couldn't answer me. Just like the trip there, the return also depends on the tide, the weather, the fish…She carried 1 molinete, 1 bamboo pole, a cloth backpack and a bag. In her backpack was a very old long-sleeved UV shirt, which she told me she had won in a training course for fishermen offered by the government of Bahia; a bottle of sunscreen, which she pointed out was almost gone; a bottle of water; and her cell phone. In the bag she carried her samburá, a type of river shrimp that she had caught to serve as bait.

Claudia on the rocks

As soon as we started walking down the path, she asked me if I was planning to pass through the cemetery. She didn't go there, she explained, preferring instead to jump over the fences on the sides to go around it. The former manager of a large tourist company in the region had bought the area, and subsequently prohibited the fisherman from taking their customary path down to the sea. The new owner claimed that they could just as well pass through the cemetery. Claudia found this to be an unfair offense.  She refuses to walk through the cemetery, which she felt was both disrespectful to the dead and required her to submit herself to the bad energies lingering there. Conflicts between nativo residents of the region and businessmen who have been buying large plots of land on the coast in the region permeate local relationships. Tensions are especially visible in the establishment of new fences and delineation of property lines that prevent the passage of fishermen through traditionally traveled paths in the course of their daily activities such as fishing and fruit picking.

As we walked,  Claudia called my attention to the beauty of the view - her love for the place apparent. Throughout the day she called my attention many times to the wonder of the place, how fresh and clean the water was, how blue the sea was, the wonderful view, the joy of being there, and repeated a few times:  “It's hard, but it's wonderful! I love it here!”

We went down the trail passing two small waterfalls. Claudia told me there were two springs close by, noting that it was pure water and that many people came there to drink and wash clothes. When we got to the beach, she put her things on the ground and started to get ready. She put on her protective blouse, she applied the sunscreen only to her face, showing me the spots she already had from the sun.

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Claudia with her grandchildren going fishing

She then invited me to go to the rocks to try to catch some small fish with which I would turn into bait to catch bigger fish. She showed me her number 10 hook, which she calls a little hook, and explained that it was used to catch barbudo, peixe branco, morea (...) which she would later use as bait to catch:

“a big pampo for us.”


With her very first cast, she caught a small fish, a palabeta. She glowed with happiness. Throughout the day, watching her, I realized how important it was for Cláudia to be recognized as a fisherwoman— she reaffirmed her identity as one many times, contrasting her work to many false shellfish gatherers who she says are affiliated with the colony and receive benefits, but they do not know how to fish.

Claudia is not currently “colonized.” She had once been registered but after a series of instances of misinformation and disrespect on the part of the state and other representatives of the colony, Claudia lost her registration. Today, she is increasingly farther and farther from getting it back. She has late dues that have accumulated that she is unable to pay. In talking about it, it was clear that her desire to have her RGP was not necessarily related to a desire for financial benefits but to the desire to have her identity and worth as a fisherwomen validated. Losing the RGP was not about losing the financial benefit, but about losing the State's recognition of what she sees as foundational to her person, her being.

Claudia - Fisherwoman/ Look at the fish I caught

“The “pé enxuto” or “dry foot” shellfish gatherers have everything paid on time, all perfect, every month. Do you know why? Because they don't go out fishing, they go to work, they work on other things, earn money and go there and pay their monthly fee at the colony. Now me, who comes here every day, who feeds my children, my grandchildren, everything with fish, how will I pay? The fish I catch here, I eat. I save them to eat on other days. I give the catch to my daughters to help them feed their boys. What is left I sell.  But then I have to buy the sugar, the flour, not to mention the hook, the chumbada, now you have to buy even the rod, because IBAMA no longer lets you cut down a tree to make a rod to fish, how am I going to pay the monthly fee? What about all those late fees they say I have to pay?”

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Claudia fishing

As Claudia’s critique reveals, in some cases the association’s policies are not consistent or aligned with the lives of their constituents. This is especially true in the case of Claudia, who fishes to feed her family and not in order to have a business.

At a certain point during our fishing trip, Claudia caught a morêa, and then she told me that if she caught 1 kg of them, she already had a certain customer in Itacaré who would buy her catch. We continued walking and throwing lines in Brejo Grande, Buraco João Dias, and other fishing grounds between the rocks. We took our bags and walked in the other direction of the beach, going up a path over the rocks, until we reached a small beach, where her “cabin” was. We sat there for a while and talked while drinking water. At that moment, I finally saw her completely relaxed, despite her initial nervousness around  me. At that moment, she felt free to talk to me about her opinions: raising children and grandchildren, her concern with the world that "is all wrong", with nature “which is ending”, with the mistreatment she has suffered all her life and how grateful she is to fishing for “having allowed her to raise her children.”

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Dona Paula with fish

Claudia told me that if it were up to her alone, she would live right there, in that little thatched shack, and indeed, she seemed to feel at home there. The fishing way of life as illustrated by Claduia proves to be about much more than producing food. It is not only about catching fish just  to sell or eat. Fishing for these women is a form of self-care, of protecting and nurturing their mental and physical health, of being in contact with nature, and participating in an activity that corresponds to their rhythm, where they can be accompanied by their family members, animals, or simply be alone with themselves. 

"If it wasn't for this, I'd be dead already."

Cláudia then started to catch some “cockroaches” to use as bait for the pampo she wanted to catch. She tied the morêa she had caught earlier to a small pole that was in her shack, with a small hook on the end, and began to hit the morêa on the ground to break it into pieces. I was a little confused, because I thought she wanted to preserve it  and try to reach a kilogram to sell to the person she always told me to buy.

Only at the end of the day, when we were on our way back, did I understand. We passed her brother on the trail, who, after a whole day of work, “was on his way to try to catch something.” He told her that he forgot the prawns at home and she gave him the second morêa she had caught to use as bait. At that moment, it seemed clear to me that the value of the fish she caught was not commercial, but it was the possibility of helping her family, either by feeding them or offering them bait to get their own fish.

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Barra do Tijuípe

With the passage of time and fishing without great results, she called attention to the sandbar that was in front of the entire coast where we were walking. A strip of sand was visible about 40 meters from the coast. She told me that it was Porto Sul's fault, that it wasn't like that before, that there were many more fish there, however:

“Since this business started with the Porto Sul, everything has been silted up here, full of sand, so the fish can't even get there. They (government representatives) say that there is none of that, but I have been fishing here all my life and I tell you that there is.”

Claudia's disbelief in government institutions is based on situations like these, in which her perception of the environment is invalidated by these institutions while they simultaneously advance positions and make rules that favor large enterprises and companies to the detriment of the fishermen.

 “Nowadays, you can get arrested for using a crab rope if you try to catch them off-season. But if you go there on the road, the number of guaiamum that are dying on the road [constructed over the mangrove], because they silted up the entire mangrove, well that doesn't count. Someone is going to come and arrest me over eight crabs? - Go arrest those people from Porto Sul who are killing half a world of animals in the mangroves and nobody says anything.”

Claudia's revolt is shared by a large part of the region's nativo community, who see their ways of life being prohibited by environmental legislation, which, at the same time authorizes the destruction of big corporations which are having irreversible impacts on the local nature. Another observation that Claudia made was about the tide. We were on the beach for around 8 hours, and the tide did not move.It neither rose nor fell, and thus, the water was not clean or good for fishing. Claudia highlighted how the tide had been behaving in ways that did not correspond to her lifetime of knowledge. I noticed that that change in the sea, certainly caused by the new sand bank, had not only an impact on her fishing, but also disrupted her traditional knowledge of the ocean. In the eight hours we were there, Claudia caught two small palabetas, two morêas and a few cockroaches that we used as bait. She looked a little disappointed that she couldn't catch a big fish to show me:

 “But that's ok, we'll come back another day, now you know that I know how to fish, that I'm not a pé enxuto, or “dry foot.” I know how to tie hook, I know how to fish, there are many people out there who don't know that, but now you tell me, I'll come home with these two little fish, for my husband and I to eat, there has to be flour, because if not, it won't enough, imagine if I'm going to pay the colony?"

Claudia - Fisherwoman/ I love fishing

Dona Paula
Dona Maria
Dona Nane
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