Watermen and Fisheries: Chesapeake and Peru

IMG_6033Throughout this semester we have consistently experienced and learned about the watermen culture of the Chesapeake Bay. This culture has affected every aspect of life in this area, starting with the residents connection with food. Much of the population is employed by the fisheries of the bay, whether oysters, crabs or other fish. This lifestyle is one of hard work, harsh conditions, simple living and a constant struggle with the environment and government. Many of these men are therefore independent and strong willed, having suffered through the ups and downs of this livelihood.

This connection with the water was clearly seen along the coast of Peru. Much of these communities are based on the success of the fisheries, mainly Anchoveta. Only second after China, this country is the main export of these fish, producing ten percent of the global catch between 1955 and 2012. With such a large catch I had imagined huge boats with new technology and capacities to catch as many as possible. Instead we found small boats with little to no communication with land as these men headed into dangerous waters in harsh conditions for several days at a time.

IMG_6017Due to this dangerous and difficult connection with this culture and food source, both the watermen of Peru and the Chesapeake seem to share the competition for the largest catch, no matter what the environmental cost. Just as the captains of the bay would fight for the last oyster, my guess is these fishermen would fight for the last Anchoveta in their area.

While this overarching view of the catch is understandable, it has lead to the degradation of not only the oyster and Anchoveta populations and habitats but also that of the connected species. While oyster bars create a unique habitat for several species, the decrease in Anchoveta population has also lead to the falling population of several bird species.

IMG_5745With the decrease in both of these fisheries due to over harvesting and other environmental factors, these watermen are forced to go through even more desperate measures to make a living. As the populations fade the watermen culture in both places is also suffering. The next generation, who have grown up with nothing but this family trade and career, are foreseeing a bleak future unless changes are made in the near future. This unforeseeable future, also affected by hurricanes in the bay and El Niño events in Peru, make the future even less predictable. Hopefully these cultures based on this food source are able to continue and thrive, but only time will reveal the future for this difficult trade.

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