Interview to María Amalia Mellado, anthropologist.
Most of the artisanal fishermen in the Region of Magallanes are men and they are dedicated to the extraction of king crab, sea urchin and luga (Gigartina -a red algae/seaweed), among others. They work strenuous days and can spend up to five months navigating the channels and fjords. But what problems do they face in their work? What techniques do they use to work? How do they interact with the shoreline? These are the kind of questions that the anthropologist María Amalia Mellado, research assistant of the socio-ecological systems area at the IDEAL Center intends to answer.
The livelihoods of artisanal fishermen are based on the goods and services of marine and coastal ecosystems. The central objective of this line of research is getting to know their stories, that will serve to understand the evolution of these socio-ecological systems and project their future dynamics.
María Amalia, who is also a Master´s student in Development on a Human Scale and Ecological Economics at the University Austral of Chile, has focused her area of study in Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams. Through 24 interviews, archives and bibliography, her research aims to respond to the ways of life of artisanal fishermen in the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic region from the 60s onwards.
Despite her research has always been focused in crossing natural sciences with social issues, María Amalia had not worked with artisanal fisherman previously. “They are very autonomous people. They do not have to be accountable to a boss. Many of them have experienced situations of life and death at sea, which has contributed to forming a direct and frank personality, “she explains.
What distinguishes artisanal fishermen from Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams?
In Punta Arenas, there are so many fishermen, that few know each other. The vessels are usually larger and there are practically no fishing sectors. Most are going to fish for two or three months out, depending on the resource. In the case of those that are dedicated to the extraction of king crab, this number can increase to five. In Puerto Williams, however, they are much closer. Sometimes they go out for 10 or 15 days, but they usually come back within a few hours. They use smaller boats and have fewer traps.
What differentiates artisanal fisherman from the Region of Magallanes from the rest of the country?
When I arrived at the region of Magallanes, I expected to find a situation similar to what happens, for example, in the region of Los Rios. In the latter, it is possible to see how a fisherman`s craft is passed down from generation to generation. It is common to encounter a fisherman, whose father, grandfather and great grandfather also performed in this field. However, this is not the case in Magallanes, mainly due to migration. As most come from other cities, they have had to create their own networks.
What is the main characteristic of artisanal fishermen from the region of Magallanes? Is there a common pattern among them?
85% or more of artisanal fisherman from Magallanes are migrating from other regions, that is, they leave their places of origin or the place where they had to live during the course of their lives to reach the extreme south of Chile. Although there are some that are from Concepción, Talcahuano, Temuco and Valdivia, the grand majority come from Chiloé. Many of them have spent years working in their respective cities in the fisheries sector and due to socio-environmental pressures, they have had to leave.
What are these pressures?
Throughout history, artisanal fishing in Chile has had many socio-environmental pressures, which have obligated fishermen to look in other places to work and access a quality of life and income that is in line with family needs. There are pressures that are relative to the subject of governance and laws. There are others related to environmental issues. Sometimes, you come across a combination of both.
With the current general fishing law, you must have three years of residence in the region to get your fishing permit. However, before, there was no regulation that would prevent fishermen from moving. If we focus on the decade of the 60’s, the earthquake that affected Valdivia and the area of Chiloé, forced many fishermen to migrate. 1964, was the year when the industry and fisheries were promoted in Puerto Montt and Calbuco. They were dedicated to extracting the maximum of a resource, without taking care of the resources. Subsequently, when the military coup occurred in Chile, many had no choice but to move, while shoals were being predated by trawl fishing. All these situations are economic, political and environmental pressures that they must have faced.
To what extent did neoliberalism contribute to the migration of fishermen?
It is a very important factor. When the economy started to open, after the coup, the sale of raw materials meant strong pressure over the environment and ecosystems, because there were no regulations in place. After that, the fishermen were forced to generate money and one way to do it was through marine resources. These natural resources were at such a low price, that in he order to have enough money, they had to take it out without limits. Finally, to cover their needs, they had to look in other locations, such as the region of Magallanes.