Food Voices: The Interviews
by Andrianna Natsoulas
Julio Cesar Moreno, Fisherman
Julio Cesar Moreno is a fisherman from Chauo in the state ofAragua in Venezuela. He is the spokesperson for the National Organization of Artisanal Fishermen and Fisherwomen and for the Artisanal Fishermen of the Social Front. He is also part of the fishing secretariat of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. He fishes for a variety of fish on his boat, El Una.
My father was a veterinarian. My mother was a coffee grower. I am a fisherman. From very young, 5 years old, I wanted to be a fisherman. I have been living here in the community and fishing for 21 years. I am part of the social struggles of this community.
I go fishing with my son and twenty other fishermen. We all fish together. What we catch, we distribute among the twenty of us. The young people are part of fishing from the time they are born, but we only have them fish with us on the days they are free and don’t have classes. The priority for us for the youth is that they educate themselves and then whoever wants to can fish with us. If we have professionals, that is even better. The situation of the fisherfolk, here, is good right now. We don’t have problems. The law of fishing and aquaculture protects us. The important element of it is the collective, not the individual.
The resource that we have is a finite resource and it has been in the past, over exploited. We, the fishermen, as well as the government want to make sure the next generation is able to use these resources. We have felt the impacts of pollution and climate change, which is making there be less fish. But, here the Caribbean is feeling these impacts less than in other areas. Up until when are we going to be able to resist these broader environmental impacts? We, the artisanal fishermen, together with the progressive governments have to make sure that we do our part to maintain this resource as clean and healthy as possible. And to always be able to enjoy a good plate of fish.
In our fishing law, we have an article that eliminates in all of the continental plate around Venezuela, industrial trawling. The law was originally passed in 2002, then it went into some reforms. From 2008-2009 was the phasing out of the trawlers. On the 31st of March 2009, it went into effect that the trawlers were completely eliminated. As a result, the national artisanal fish catch has increased by 8%. It is the only country that has by law eliminated industrial trawling. With industrial trawling, only 6% of their catch would be sold. The rest they would just dump back as waste. Trawling does not give the opportunity to the little fish to grow into big fish and reach sexual maturity. It disrupts the environmental equilibrium in the marine ecosystems.
Industrial fishing cannot come within 6 miles of this area. There is industrial fishing for tuna and jural [seabass] in the Pacific. The industrial fishing is not for national consumption here, but it is sent elsewhere. They have to be 6 miles or more off the coastline. The areas of the coral reef formations are completely prohibited to fishing. The island zones, national park areas, areas of special concern. These special areas have either a very important cultural significance or national strategic significance. We have regulations in terms of the capture, for example of the lobster. You can’t use mono-filament nylon nets. The width of the nets, we can only use the nets to get the fish out, but you can’t let them soak in the water. 3.5 inches to 8 inches are the net size, so the little fish can escape. We cannot use dynamite or a chemical that makes the fish sleep. People who capture the ornamental fish would use this chemical that temporarily paralyzes the fish and they would go in scuba outfits and secretly scoop up the fish. This is illegal.
We, the artisanal fishermen, together with the government have to be vigilant to make sure these restrictions are actually all followed. Most of these fishermen are coming from generations of fishermen who are very aware of the fish stocks and which are endangered and which are not. We don’t have nets too close to the beach because they could hurt children. We don’t permit capture of sardines here, because sardines are the first on the food chain and are important for the other fish. We don’t permit any damage to the mountains, to the national park here. We only capture the large fish. All the smaller fish, we release so they can grow. Our fishing law is also about all the fisherfolk being able to have dignified lives, to be able to have dignified homes, dignified jobs, decent boats. To be able to access an education. Once we retire, to be able to have a good pension too. These are some of the achievements of the revolution that we fishfolk have helped to bring about.