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Dona paula

Fishing Bureaucracy

“I've been fishing since I was eight years old and I'm going to die fishing. I fish branquinho, robalo, whatever…it bites my hook, I will fish it.”

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Dona Paula smiling

Dona Paula was introduced to me by Risiane, who is also a fisherwoman. She is a resident of the Bairro Novo area of Serra Grande, where she has lived for over 30 years. Dona Paula was born in Uruçuca and moved to the village of Serra after her parents died. Today she lives alone with the grandson she calls her son, since she adopted him from one of her daughters. Another daughter, who is sick, lives opposite her house, with other grandchildren that Dona Paula helps raise. Dona Paula says that she learned to fish by herself in the river in Uruçuca. Her parents didn't fish, but she liked the river and started catching fish using a jereré, a kind of net tied to a circular wire. Then she decided to buy a hook and line, and returned home with a basket full of beré and traíra. She says she taught herself out of love, and that fishing is a blessing for her.

Dona Paula - Fisherwoman

At 63 years old, Dona Paula retired as a fisherwoman through the colony. Before retiring, as she says, she worked part-time as a street sweeper for the city hall, and sold some fish to supplement her income. But now that she's retired she doesn't sell anymore, she keeps the fish to eat and to give to her daughter as a way to help her feed her grandchildren. Risiane, her neighbor who is also a fisherman, says that Dona Paula always gives her fish as well. Dona Paula goes fishing every week in the Barra do Tijuípe. She spends a few days in the small shack she has there, where she salts and preserves the fish she catches. The little ice she takes in bottles is to preserve the shrimp she uses as bait.

She says that after her husband died, she spent a year in Barra alone. She felt calm there, despite her grief and difficulty of raising her grandson alone. But, nowadays she spends three or four days in the Barra camp and then returns to her home in Bairro Novo. Her grandson accompanies her on his days off from work. Dona Paula says that while he really likes fishing, he can't live exclusively from it, and that's why he has another formal job and only fishes when he can.

Dona Paula - Fisherwoman / Fishing is everything

Dona Paula's shack in Barra do Tijuípe has been there since before the guardhouse that currently controls entrance to the area was created. But despite all these years, crossing it on a weekly basis, it is still subjected to constraints and mistreatment by the security guards who control the passage of fishermen through the now private property.

We heard about other tensions between the fisherman and land owners and new residents, such as the case in which the manager of a large hotel project in the region stated that all fishermen are thieves and that “they pick up everything they see in front of them,” accusing them of stealing coconuts that have fallen to the ground for consumption along the way.This prejudice portrays a fundamental different relationship with the natural world found among nativos and the more recent arrivals. Each has different ideas about the use and ownership of the territory, and newcomers are unaware of the traditional extractive native way of life, and tend to see the land and its resources through a capitalist logic.

Fishing in the sea

Fishing in Barra

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Dona Paula with her stick and samburá

When I went fishing with Dona Paula in Barra do Tijuípe, she only took a bag with some fruit, a bucket with a bottle with frozen water inside, and a backpack, in which she carried some clothes and some bedding. We drove down the road that led to the first gate, where cars are only allowed if accompanied by known fishermen. At the first gate, the security guard approached us with some distrust but eventually let us pass and we went through and reached the second gate. From then on, you can only enter by car if you will just drop off the fisherwoman and come back immediately, otherwise it is necessary to park the car at the gate and walk about one kilometer inside the property to the fishing area. Making our way through the property, we passed employees working in the gardens of the mansions. All of the seven or eight houses, as well as the main house, leisure and barbecue areas, games room, and guest houses, were empty. Dona Paula explained to me that when there are guests, they cannot walk along that trail, and so are transported by a golf cart that goes through another path so as not to be seen by the guests.

When we got to the edge of the mangrove, Dona Paula immediately called out to Seu Zé, announcing her arrival. Seu Zé's house is the first on the trail that goes to Dona Paula's cabin. He’s always lived there, but he wasn't home when we passed. We walked a few more meters and arrived at Dona Paula's place. She took out the key she wore around her neck and unlocked the padlock.

Dona Paula - Fisherwoman / Canvas shack

The house was a square of wood and torn tarpaulins. The padlock didn't protect any material goods inside, what was there had no monetary value. The padlock protected the physical space that guaranteed the ability to go fishing. Dona Paula entered but didn't invite us in, as there wouldn't be room for the two of us in the space that contained a small table, some mattresses piled up and some dishes scattered on the floor due to the lack of a cupboard to hold them. There were also some clothes and knives scattered on the table and under the mattresses, but there was no bathroom, chair, or light. Despite its shortcomings, the shack is Dona Paula's joy, and the brightness of her smile when entering the place is remarkable.

Dona Paula - Fisherwoman / Ice for preserving shrimp

Dona Paula came in and said she would prepare the ice for the shrimp before we left. With the ice broken, she put some shrimp in the cofo (cassuá) and the rest of the shrimp was placed in the styrofoam cooler. I asked her where the shrimp came from, and she explained to me that she used to get jereré shrimp in the mangroves, but that lately there wasn’t any, so she had to buy them from Ilhéus. Dona Paula's reports about the reduction or end of certain species echo those of all the fishermen and shellfish gatherers I spoke with in the region. Shrimp, robalos, tainhas, aratus have disappeared. The artisan fishing community identifies a number of reasons for this: industrial fishing prevents the fish from reaching the coast, shrimp farming has changed the properties of the mangrove and affected the reproduction of crabs and aratus. Tourism and population growth on the coast scares away animals, environmental imbalance caused by melting glaciers, and oil leakages and silting due to the construction of Porto Sul, the port development that is being built 20 km away from the village.

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Dona Paula with a fish

When Dona Paula was ready, she donned a baseball hat with the coat of arms of Brazil, a well-worn button-down shirt, and Lycra shorts. Her coifo (caçuá) hung over one arm, and her fishing rod held in hand. Inside the coifo were shrimp in a bowl made from the bottom of a plastic bottle, nylon line, and a small bottle of palm oil. We went out fishing, crossed a branch of the river that passed behind the shack and headed to Barra. Dona Paula mentioned that the tide was still rising, and that's why she couldn't fish in the river. I remembered that when we went to the same place with Rubem, he told me that when the tide is rising is the best time to cast the net. Thus, I concluded that the various forms of fishing mean that each fisherman catches a different species with their own method.

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Barra do Tijuípe

We reached the mouth of Barra, and Dona Paula went into the sea. She broke a piece of shrimp off with her teeth and fitted it to the hook. The other half of the shrimp was held between her lips - saved until she needed new bait. When the fish took the shrimp and stuck on the hook, she held the rod with one hand, and with the other, made a pendular movement to bring the fish in closer, removed it from the hook and placed it in her coifo, while taking the bait out of her mouth, fastening it to the hook, and throwing the line back into the sea. I stayed with Dona Paula for around 4 hours and during that time. She caught fourteen small carapebas. It was around eleven o'clock in the morning when she told me that she would stay there until one or two in the afternoon when the tide came in, and then she would go home for lunch and clean and salt the fish she had caught to preserve them. At night, when the tide goes down, she will come back to fish in the mangroves on the other side of the river. She usually stays for 3 days before returning to her home in the village.

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Dona Paula fishing in the Tijuípe River

Dona Paula
Dona Maria
Dona Nane
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