The last piece of bread of the Chilean ocean

(Work in Progress)

(Valparaiso Region, Chile, 2017)

“And that calm sea bathes you, promotes a future splendor,” says the national anthem of Chile, which would be a paradox. In a country with more of six thousand kilometers of coastline, the fish underwater is less and less.

After more than a decade in crisis, by overexploitation of resources of the large industry, artisanal fishermen observed impotent how traditional species such as hake, horse mackerel, conger eel and anchovy disappeared from the sea.

Faced with this scenario of economic and social setback, artisans had to reinvent themselves as fishers of the cuttlefish: a large squid, which can weigh up to 30 kilos, and whose capture is complex, dangerous and physically very demanding.

During the last ten years, in the central zone, most of the fishing coves has been converted to cuttlefish fishing, and with this, they had to change the extraction methods and their work schedules. The cuttlefish is caught night, by hand, pulling a rope that descends in a straight line up to 50 meters deep, when the squid bites the hook it rises to pulse, fighting against the gravity and the cuttlefish pushing towards the bottom. Each fisherman in the boat carries its own rope. The task is hard; inflated with seawater, they increase their weight to the double and when surfacing they expel water, ink and can even slice fishermen’s fingers. Despite this, for seamen, it is the only resource they have left. The product is sold mainly to exporters who send it to the Asian and Russian market. The cuttlefish fishing is carried out every day, as long as there is no swell since it increases the risk of shipwreck. If the sea is calm, they leave at seven in the evening, enduring cold and sleep. They play the hide trying to capture as much as possible, even if this supposes an imminent risk of rollover due to overload, sometimes they take the risk motivated by the economic reward.

Oil costs for the engine and fishing materials are expensive, and the sale price of the product has declined due to the stock that the large industrial fishery put on the Market. With more size, more technology along with smaller costs, The corporate dominance in the industry has turned the activity of small fisheries into deficit during the last two years. Following this, and since 2015, groups of artisanal fishermen from all over Chile have asked the government to cancel the Fisheries Act that currently allows industrialists to extract 20% of the cuttlefish, although nobody guarantees that they do not catch much more.