By Parker Townley
June 9th, 2011 – Puerto Parada
A broad mix of fishermen, police, government officials and internationals gathered together June 9th to discuss the thorny topic of blast fishing in El Salvador’s Bay of Jiquilisco. The meeting touched on a subject long acknowledged as a problem in Puerto Parada, a community sheltered within the ecologically critical coastal protected area. Since before the civil war, this practice has been harming fish populations and the local livelihoods dependent on them for subsistence. Blast fishing has also further strained the ever-precarious condition of resident sea turtle populations and has maimed numerous fishermen in explosive-related accidents.
Despite these hazards to human health and the environment, the practice has continued in many communities. As the fishing industry has struggled with pollution, over-fishing and the loss of vital habitat, many fishermen have turned to using explosives to shore up decreasing returns. And in the place of viable alternatives, the practice has instead only exacerbated problems, as blasting has become the mainstay of fishermen attempting to eke out a living.
The June 9th meeting represented the first step in an attempt at public outreach by both grassroots leadership of La Coordinadora and government authorities to curtail blast fishing in Puerto Parada. In attendance were six fishermen, who were invited in good faith by these local leadership. Their hope is to start an open, frank and inclusive dialogue with blast fishermen about the nature of their livelihoods, without the fear of reprisal from authorities for their participation in an illicit activity.
The meeting began with an explanation by government officials of environmental issues facing El Salvador, in order to address the importance of the Bay of Jiquilisco and the need for its protection. This formal atmosphere quickly changed, however, once organizer Marvin Alberto Alberado took over. A leader with EcoViva’s local partner La Coordinadora del Puerto Parada, Marvin addressed the fishermen in a frank tone: “Everyone knows where, how many and which fishermen are using explosives,” he said. “Our goal is to establish the mechanisms necessary for responsible fishing practices.” Having brought the issue out into the open in a non-confrontational way, Marvin had everyone’s full attention.
As a member of local leadership from La Coordinadora and the Mangrove Association, Marvin works in Puerto Parada to enact sustainable fishery management with the support of local fishermen and women and their local cooperatives. Since 2009, EcoViva has been supporting Marvin’s work to outreach to those who practice blast fishing, and assist in convincing them to change this destructive practice through awareness, technical assistance and appropriate fishing gear.
Through support from EcoViva and other organizations, fishermen agree to transition to less-harmful practices in exchange for fishing gear and access to managed local fisheries. Through an agreement between the communities of La Coordiandora and government officials, blast fishers also receive immunity from past actions for their pledge to sustainable fishing.
However, National Police Inspector Calderon Castillo made it clear that law enforcement authorities would not be as lenient in the future. “Blast fishing breaks laws 259, 260, and 346 of the penal code which could result in 7-14 years in prison,” he said.
Calderón continued to state that, above all, the police preferred to work with communities to prevent the practice than struggle to catch perpetrators. “Take advantage of the opportunity the Ministry has provided you,” he said. Calderón and Marvin both cited previously successful efforts in the nearby communities of Puerto Triunfo and Isla Mendéz as examples of how to move forward.
At the end of the meeting a cautious optimism had taken hold. The six fishermen in the room agreed to share information from the meeting with those who had not attended. Furthermore, they also agreed to another meeting to discuss how and when to move forward with the government in the transition to responsible fishing practices. “Small steps will serve us well in the end” concluded Marvin. With a flurry of handshakes and pats on the back the group broke apart, visibly relieved and comforted by the prospects of future cooperation.
 Liles et. al (2011) “Hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata in El Salvador: Nesting distribution and mortality at the largest remaining nesting aggregation in the eastern Pacific Ocean.” Endangered Species Research.