“Dizziness and Hake. Chronicle from Aysén.” By Iván Greco, Implementation Leader at FOF Chile

A subtle yet persistent sensation follows me aboard Pato’s boat, a fisherman, great cook, and faithful representative of the “republic of good humor.” I’m also in the company of the great Titín, whom I met a few months earlier. Today, he is a crew member onboard, accompanying in the fishing task. We are in Puerto Gala, in Aysén, a locality where we share a few days of work with colleagues. We work in fishing activities, in oceans, in addressing the crisis that the sector has been suffering for many years, and in designs for preserving the beauty of this art rooted in the rural culture of the area and in the resources that sustain it.

I feel an uncomfortable dizziness, with some nausea, the kind that if left to grow can drive you crazy. Fortunately, I understand that it is manageable, although I know I will need some guidance to untangle a problem that surely only afflicts those of us who are more accustomed to a sea of cars, in the streets of Buenos Aires, in my case.

I am far from there this afternoon, fulfilling tasks on board, in a place unique in the world that is difficult to embellish with verbal expressions, under the orders of Pato and Titín, gutting a portion of the 200 kilograms of southern hake that we are fishing in the fishing grounds of the Jacaf channel. A tough task for the more than 30 fishermen of the locality: throwing 40 lines of over a hundred meters with 56 hooks each into the water and then pulling them back. I rehearse questions, I rehearse answers, as if they were swaying with the boat on those waters. They all respond to my own subjectivity.

Why do these people go out to fish? It’s a lifestyle that grants access to a wonderful place, I respond to myself. But the world that has been shown to me leads me to something less romantic. Much of the reason why is explained by the need to obtain means to live, which in that place probably requires as much money as individual observation or temperance. Unfortunately, a kilo of bread is not paid with coins of virtue, and, as in many fishing coves in Chile, it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain the same amounts of fish with the same effort. Southern hake has been in an overexploited condition for years, according to information provided by science and also by local accounts. Fewer and fewer actors concentrate on commercializing the remaining volumes of the resource. Furthermore, due to questionable drafting processes of the current regulations, in this region, it is allowed for those who do not fish to transfer their extraction rights to fishing companies or other colleagues. Many fishermen do so facing bodies that no longer respond as before and facing the depletion of the resource. What to do? What alternatives are there? These are the types of questions we frequently ask ourselves with my colleagues.

My dizziness is somewhat linked to the novice, but particularly to navigating those waters, as it is neither the first nor the second time that I embark from a cove on the infinite coasts of the southern Pacific. Along with my colleagues, we have been working for seven years to support commercial improvement projects with artisanal fishermen and fisherwomen. But the waters in the channels of this region have an tireless restlessness. This, in some way, touches on the disorientation that sometimes afflicts me due to my attempts to read this fast-paced world.

This work environment, with extreme dependence on the exposure of the body to Patagonian climates and constant physical exertion, is foreign to the one linked to hyper-connectivity. I could hastily label it as “hostile,” but it is entirely within Pato and Titín’s world. They are the ones who, in a quick exercise of retrospection and with a firmness that now makes me smile, enabled me the possibility of going fishing, offering me with solidarity (mixed with some pity), appropriate clothing to avoid getting wet. Now I know, they were giving me the mission to work as another companion and to help lighten the never-so-well-called “task.” Immediately, I tuned into the code. That afternoon was the one for, as long as I was willing, to work – as we say in Buenos Aires when we go out to work – alongside them for three hours. Time it would take to retrieve the lines they had cast in the morning.

Beyond the dizziness, gutting a hundred fish on board doesn’t generate the impression that my reaction manual suggests. Another surprise. It is a task done for sanitary reasons, as the first natural bacterial load in a decomposition process manifests in the viscera of the now fish. This practice is agreed upon with the only buyer who arrives in the locality these days, and whose employees are waiting for our return. There, what was obtained will be weighed, and a paper will be received, a sort of “voucher” that Pato and Titín can redeem for money in a few days. While the price received allows for the operation to be paid for and generates a not negligible margin, there is always among the residents of the locality a feeling that it is very little in relation to the work done to earn it. Furthermore, it is a price that has not varied much over the years, compared to the prices of the economy in general, always on an upward path of no return. The buyer sets the purchase conditions, and there is not much room for negotiation. The company’s operation to reach Puerto Gala, provide the boats with fuel and bait, and wait for their catch to return to the mainland for processing, must have had a significant investment and costs. That position is usually carefully guarded. As in most labor relations, it leads to a negotiation with asymmetric power. That’s where our work slips in.

The idea of ​​setting up a self-managed project together with the local community to add value to quality, legal, and traceable fishing may be an opportunity to supplement the income of fishermen and fisherwomen. We are just taking the first steps to test the idea; which consists of transforming the extracted southern hake into vacuum-packed and frozen fillets.

There is still a long way to go, but we emphasize that a beautiful working group has been formed between locals and those of us who visit them. We are also here to laugh and enjoy a delicious congrio stew, prepared and shared by Pato, our amphibious host on land and sea.

The patiently awaited guidance arrives, and with it, some calm. My dizziness was already making me uncomfortable. Fortunately, Titín, who at that moment was giving various instructions for better work for his brand-new crew member, warns me in time. Now the recommendation is to take breaks and look at the horizon. Perspective. The calm of seeing a point… a point of departure, or of arrival? I can, now yes, see clouds that are somewhat pink below, some resting on the peaks of the rocky hills of the Aysén fjords. I certify that it calms the dizziness.

Published Apr 12, 2024