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Foto 141 - Peixe na parede.JPG
Processing and Selling


After fishing, the catch must be processed before sale. It was only in 2009, with LAW No. 11,959, that processing, as well as artisanal techniques for making and maintaining fishing tools, were even classified as fishing activities. These are the elements of fishing labor that are generally carried out by women, which is why it was only after the passage of the law that more women began to be recognized as fishers and to access specific rights associated with being registered as such. The processing of fish in the Canavieiras RESEX takes place according to a variety of different arrangements, which vary according to species, the relationships between fisher and processor, and the interests and personal conditions of those involved. The expression used to describe processing work is “catar or tirar”, (literally to pick or remove) meaning cleaning aratu, siri, and shrimp, separating the shell from the meat.

Canavieiras crab pickers' association


In the case of shrimp in general, there are boat owners who front  the costs of the boat (ice, gasoline, water) to the fishermen. The number of fishermen varies depending on the size of the boat, but in general, medium boats take two to three fishermen. When they return in the afternoon, the fishermen share their catch with the boat owner, with the initial investments in ice and gasoline being deducted from the total amount. The shrimp are kept in ice boxes until the next day when they are processed. After this phase, the owner of the boat tells the catadeiras (the women who process the shrimp), who arrive early the next day, as they are also paid per kilo, and so the longer they work, the higher their earnings.

Shrimp being processed

Shrimp cleaning yields different outcomes depending on a variety of factors: If cleaning is done first in the machine, the catadeiras will only clean what the machine did not separate, so they receive around R$1.50/kg (US$.30/kg) and the machine operator will receive R$1.00/Kg(US$.20/kg). If cleaning is done without the help of the machine, which is happening less and less, the catadeiras receive R$3.00/kg (US$.60/kg). There is also the so-called “maluquinho” (crazy), a type of picking that simply involves removing the head of the shrimp and leaving the shells, generally used by acarajé women from Bahia. This type of harvesting pays R$2.00/kg (US$.40/kg), as it cannot be passed through the machine.

Cleaning the shrimp - Step 1

These general guidelines around earnings  especially in the neighborhood of Pedro Menezes, located next to the Port where boats disembark. The neighborhood hosts a large proportion of the spaces where shrimp cleaning takes place. The exception to this rule occurs at the Belmonte Processing Unit, where the collectors receive R$5.00/kg (US$1.0/kg) for shrimp processed without a machine. They work with PPE, tables, chairs and hygiene conditions that are much better than the working conditions of the catadeiras from Pedro Menezes, who are generally subjected to long hours of work, with inadequate spaces to sit, and without adequate PPE, which ends up impacting their health.

Fish on the wall

The main impacts of these working conditions take their toll on the spine as most women experience a lot of lower back pain due to sitting on low benches and bending over the bucket in which they cleanskin inflammations, as it is customary to use sodium sulfite mixed with ice to reduce the browning of shrimp and prolong their shelf life. Direct and constant contact with sulfite can cause skin irritation,thinning of the skin, and even the loss of fingerprints, which is very common among shrimp harvesters. After cleaning, the shrimp are washed again, bagged, sealed, and frozen in preparation for sale.

As income varies depending on productivity, remuneration  varies from between 8kg/day for processing by the less experienced catadeiras, and 15kg/day for processing by the most experienced and agile, if there is that amount to be processed. This comes out to  something between R$12.00 (US$2.40) and R$30.00 (US$6.00) per day of work in Pedro Menezes, and R$40.00 (US$8.00)  and R$75.00 (US$15.00)at the Belmonte processing unit. The owner of the shrimp sells them at R$25.00/kg (US$5.0/kg) to the so-called atravessador (middleman), a trader who goes from door to door buying seafood to resell in other cities. This same kilo will be resold between R$40.00/kg (US$8.00/kg) and R$60.00/kg (US$12.00/kg)  to shopkeepers and fishmongers, and will reach the final consumer at a cost of between R$70.00/kg (US$14.00/kg) and R$90.00/kg (US$18.00/kg).

Aratu, siri e caranguejo

Foto 144 - Caranguejos sendo catados na Unidade de Beneficiamento de Belmonte.jpg

Crabs being sorted at the Belmonte Processing Unit

The aratu is the main species that women catch and process. Siri are also commonly caught  by women, but caranguejo are more typically caught by men.. Processing happens mostly among women and can occur based on several different arrangements:

In the case of women who collect the crabs themselves,they can process their own catch, or they can pay another woman to process it. Paying someone to process means more time to go to the mangrove to catch more. It also means not having to engage in work that requires many hours of sitting, and with repetitive movements of the fingers in frequent contact with hard and sharp shells, and which generates back pain, and pain and swelling in the fingers and joints.

Women who just do cleaning work might process the catch of family members or acquaintances on a half-share basis, which means dividing the final product in half between the fisherwoman and the catadeira, or they can be paid for the processing work, in which case they generally receive R$15.00/kg (US$3.00/kg).

The decision to fish and/or process is made for different reasons. Personal preference is one of the main drivers of this choice. There are women who prefer to fish, as they like being in the mangrove or do not like processing. There are women who do not like to fish because they do not feel comfortable in the mangrove, they have difficulty getting crabs and/or just say they like to process. There are also those who cannot go to the mangrove due to having small children, who need care and who prevent them from staying away from home for a long time. There are also those with health problems, often caused by frequent visits to the mangroves. In these cases, despite enjoying fishing more, these women process for lack of options.

Foto 142 - Catando aratu.jpg

Cleaning Aratu

On average, the catadeiras state that they process all of what they receive. Due to the difficulty of storage, and the urgency to quickly freeze the seafood, they typically start in the morning and work until late at night. The amount they clean varies depending on the amount fished. This is influenced by several factors, such as periods of fishing prohibition due to the animal's reproductive cycle, climatic conditions, and the appropriate number of animals in the mangrove, which has been decreasing considerably in recent years. On average, considering good days and bad days, in a typical month a catadeira produces around 40kg of processed fish. In other words, their take home pay is around R$600.00 (US$120.00) per month of processing. In fishing and in cleaning, there are no weekends or holidays. Women work according to the need and the possibilities that the mangrove offers.

After being processed, the seafood is washed, bagged, weighed and frozen for sale, which is also carried out by middlemen who buy a kilo of aratu for R$50.00 (US$10.00), and resell it for R$60.00 (US$12.00). Aratu reaches the final consumer for between R$70.00/kg (US$14.00/kg) and R$80.00/kg (US$16.00/kg). A kilo of harvested soft crab is generally sold at R$45.00/kg to the middleman and reaches the final consumer between R$60.00 (US$60.00) and R$80.00/kg (US$14.00/kg) .Caranguejo is sold to the middleman at R$50.00/kg (US$10/kg) and reaches the final consumer at a price between R$80.00/kg (US$14.00/kg) and R$90.00/kg (US$18.00/kg).

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Aratu ready for the market

Fish and shrimp arriving from the sea

Processing work presents a chance to make a meager living, but it is hard work. On the one hand, the women say they are grateful to their mothers' teachings about fishing, in all its dimensions, which allowed them to put food on the table and to raise their children in difficult times. Without schooling, and without other employment options, processing often created the conditions for survival. Some say they learned to love the life, the profession. They express gratitude for all they have received from the mangrove. On the other hand, nowadays, with more available government support and with the resources of the AMEX, the women hope their daughters are able to have more options. The possibility of new choices, created by the achievement of hard won rights, means they can dream of other futures for their daughters.

Furthermore, young people in the community also see different possibilities for themselves. If, in their childhood, the fisherwomen accompanied their mothers in the processing activity at a very young age and began their working life very early, the youth nowadays do not want to  continue down this path. They are in school. They are aspiring to other possible lives, which have become more thinkable due to new technologies and globalization.


Many people at the RESEX de Canavieiras noted that while there has been a drop in the total amount of shellfish caught, the most significant challenge related to earning a living from fishing has to do with selling what one catches. This challenge is related to the structural and processing conditions required by the Federal government for the acquisition of the SIF - Federal Inspection Seal, which authorizes the sale of products of animal origin in federal territory. The requirements involve processing plants with expensive infrastructure (surfaces, ventilation), machinery, PPE, storage and transport conditions that are very far from the reality of these communities. According to a sort of perverse logic, public authorities require workers to provide the sorts of conditions that should be offered by the state itself, conditions which ensure the quality not only of products, but also the safety and working conditions of fishermen and shellfish gatherers.

Value and quality

The imposition of a quality seal that is unattainable without government support, feeds an informal market, based on the participation of middlemen who assume risk in distributing illegal seafood, and earning significant profits as a result. On the other hand, fishermen and shellfish gatherers, without the possibility of engaging in official marketing that gives greater value to their products and their work, end up selling at very low prices so as not to lose their seafood, and thus receive unfair and insufficient remuneration. Low pay, in turn,  generates an overload of production to try to increase earnings, overworking bodies in the mangroves and processing plants. It is common to hear from the fishers that middlemen get rich at their expense. The urgency of structures such as the Belmonte Processing Unit that provide better working conditions and decent wages for their efforts is fundamental to the health of these fishing communities.

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