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Fishing to Survive

By Pinar Istek

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It is 6 a.m. on a gloomy Pelada morning. Eliecer Lopez and Alejandro Mejia are trying to pull Chaday, their boat, into the ocean. Her old, blue body is having a hard time moving across the sand. After a few tries, finally she is by the water. Waves are slowly starting to hit her, yet they are not strong enough to embrace her. At last, a slightly powerful one grabs her after a quick push and everyone is on board on the way to gather one-mile-long hand-line, which they left the day before.

46-year-old Eliecer Lopez is a Nosareño. He is only one of more than 12 fishermen in Pelada. He has been artisanal fishing over 20 years on his own boat and has been working on the fishing boats ever since he was a child.

"It went very bad today. Only 10 or 12 small fish... That is very bad," he said. They kept the fish for personal consumption. On a good day of fishing, it is possible to catch 20 to 40 kilograms of fish. At those times, Lopez and Mejia sell most of it to the local restaurants. Depending on the season, Lopez fishes two or three weeks a month. When fishing is not good enough, he works at the constructions and agriculture.

His wife, Maria Jesus Billagra, a middle-aged woman, is washing the dishes and organizing the house. As she starts to speak about her husband, the feeling of longing and worrying for him, even in his presence, shadows her bright, brown eyes. "When he is fishing I feel alone, because he spends a lot of time either in the ocean or preparing to fish," she said.

Longing for her husband is not only a weight on Maria's heart. Their 7-year-old son, Kendal Lopez Billagra, the youngest of three brothers, is an outgoing and talkative young man. He seems excited and happy to have both of his parents at home. He commented that he misses his father a lot and he is upset when his father doesn't come home at night.

Eliecer Lopez is in a constant conflict between what makes him the happiest and the wishes of those who love him the most. It almost resembles the act of pulling and pushing Chaday, while trying to get her in the water, a constant battle between going after his love of the ocean and coming back home to fulfill his role as a parent and a husband.

His wife Maria said, "I have always wanted him to do a different kind of job where he can work a few hours during the day. Because with fishing sometimes he comes home at night, sometimes he doesn't come back at all."

Their son Kendal added, "it (fishing) is very difficult. He comes home very tired and worn out. And he smells (like fish) all the time."

Even though, he is in love with fishing and the ocean, Eliecer Lopez doesn't want his children to become fishermen like himself, who only has a primary school degree. "I think they (his children) have to study to be able to get better jobs. It is not easy to make your living as a fisherman. I want them to have better jobs than this."

His wife agrees. "I want them (their children) to study to be able to defend themselves. I want them to study so that the life would be easier for them. It wouldn't be as hard as it is for my husband. Fishing is tough. It is a lot of work and very tiring," she said.

Kendal, who is in first grade, has no plans to become a fisherman for now. "I don't like it. You can't make enough money," he said. "I want to work in construction business. I like it a lot."


(From left to right) Eliecer Lopez and Alejandro Mejia wait for a last wave to push
the boat in the water.

Alejandro Mejia gets on the boat while Eliecer Lopez starts the engine.
Eliecer Lopez and Alejandro Mejia look for the markers of their hand-line that they
left the day before.
Eliecer Lopez unhooks the biggest piece that they caught that day.
María Jesús Billagra y Eliecer López

Being almost completely dependent on fishing is not easy on the family. When fishing is not as good, it affects the life at home. Maria said, "because there is not enough money to pay for the expenses and it gets harder. But I have to understand." Eliecer added, "Sometimes I feel sad. Because I know sometimes it can go bad. Normally it would be great if fishing went well. We would be happier. But, at the same time, I don't feel that bad."

Maria wants to have a better business in the future, a business that will allow them to pay for their expenses. "But not in the ocean. The ocean is very dangerous," she said.

Despite all the difficulties of fishing on his family and himself, Lopez can't see himself doing anything else. "If I were to be born again, I would love to continue fishing. It is not that great but I love it. It is almost like an addiction."


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