Fishing and Ecotourism, a Winning Combination

Chile | Chiloe | Caleta de Puñihuil

Fernando Avalos Carvajal catches shellfish in Puñihuil Bay on Chiloé Island. He tells us about his work, his family and his vision for the future.

“Ever since I was little, I have felt that my life was linked to the sea. We lived on the Chilean central coast, and my family, who counts quite a few professional fishermen, took every opportunity to stay in the various bays of the Region. When I was 17, my uncle and I moved south. I arrived in Chiloe during the so-called “loco fever” period, when thousands of fishermen rushed to harvest the valuable loco mollusk. And so it was that I landed in the little bay of Puñihuil.

Now I live with my family in Ancud, 28 kilometers from Puñihuil, and I leave early every morning, when the sea permits us to dive and work. During the summer, when the children finish school, my whole family moves and we settle in the small bay, where we have a little cabin, a rancha as they say around here.

I’m a mariscador, I dive to catch shellfish and I belong to the Viento Fuerte de Puñihuil union, which manages the fishing area. We mostly work with the loco, Concholepas concholepas [Chilean abalone], which grows in natural banks and is the most profitable resource along our coasts. However, demand is so high that it has been overfished and risked extinction. For several years its harvest was banned, until the authorities, inspired by the fishing system adopted by some communities of Chilean fishermen, introduced a law that encouraged groups of fishermen to join together and form a local organization. The management of marine areas was entrusted to these groups, with a trust agreement. There are more than 700 different fishing management areas in Chile, known as áreas de manejo. External consultants evaluate the fish population every year, to determine how much mollusk can be fished, while the fishermen manage themselves collectively, ensuring they don’t go over the allowed limits.

To improve and protect the area, we all work together on repopulation initiatives or transferring predators, like starfish. If necessary, we introduce the species that the loco feeds on, like mussels, which we call choritos here, and we organize a system of collective supervision with the members to avoid illegal fishing within the area we oversee.

Unfortunately we have a big problem, our dependence on intermediaries to sell our products. We don’t export directly, and so the returns we get from the loco are constantly going down. Another big worry is from industrial development and it’s ties with the government. We could soon see some significant legislative impacts and the area set aside for artisanal fishing could be restricted. Industrial fishing, in Chile, is based on an irrational exploitation of marine resources, with a policy that does not favor sustainable development that properly values the country’s natural resources. The raw materials are processed without added value, using casual labor, without any kind of protection from either a social or a safety perspective.

I strongly believe in local development, and in the right and the ability of coastal communities to determine how to use their own resources wisely. Fishermen must have an active role, they must fully understand the ecosystem and the conditions of the different species. They must take part in decision-making processes, so that there is effective involvement and a truly participatory development.

Bearing all this in mind, I also work with Ecoturismo Puñihuil, a local organization that is working to support the region’s sustainable development, creating greater ecological awareness. We work together for Puñihuil to be recognized as a destination for marine ecotourism. Together with other fishermen, I drive birdwatching expeditions in rubber dinghies. The different birds we see include penguins. We know the sea and its inhabitants like no-one else. Ecotourism allows us to lay the foundations for local economic development, focused on the protection and promotion of our resources, creating new sources of income for the whole community, not only for those who work with the sea, but also those who work the land.

The sea gives me a living. Everything that I have, the sea has given me, and so I respect it. Over time I have learned to regard marine resources highly, I have understood that if we don’t protect them they will run out. My colleagues are my friends: We have spent a lifetime together, worrying about each other, depending on each other and sometimes owing each other our lives.

My work is my life and I am deeply proud of it. It allows me to be independent, to be the master of my time and to make responsible decisions.

It allows me to be free.”

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