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Voices Of The Sea

Sri Lanka

new internationalist
issue 234 - August 1992

Voices of the sea

Chorkor Rascals


Elizabeth Ayele Tagoe, Chorkor, Ghana

ELIZABETH AYELE TAGOE I'm a fish smoker; that's what I've been doing for many, many years, even before I had my first child. Before I got married I was a trader in the market, selling cassava and plantains. Then when I met Kwei Kumah Amoo I decided to become a fish smoker. He fished for a living and I thought it best to smoke his catch and sell it so as to keep the money in the family.

Fishing at sea is hard work but it's the fish smokers who make money. Smoked fish is in demand all over Ghana, especially in the countryside. My main customers are women traders who buy the fish to sell to other people. Usually they pay cash but sometimes I give credit to my regular customers and my biggest problem is when those women don't pay.

When my husband died I continued with the fish smoking, and the business has helped me raise six children. I wouldn't say fish smoking has made me rich, but at least I've been able to build this four-roomed house.

During the fish season we hardly have time to eat. We rush down to the beach very early in the morning to await the boats. Then we carry the fish home in containers on our heads and start smoking it. We work from dawn to dusk. In the lean season when catches fall, we work once a week.

In this area they mostly catch herrings, especially the small ones that we call 'Chorkor rascals', or 'Keta schoolboys' (Keta is a fishing town in Ghana's Volta region). Don't ask me why they're called that; maybe because they're so small.

None of my five boys was able to finish school. They all preferred to follow in their father's footsteps and go to sea. I don't regret that - we make a satisfactory living from the sea, although it's not as good as it used to be. In the past we could get better prices and fish were abundant year after year. These days there aren't so many good fish seasons and the money we make buys less and less...

reported by Ajoa Yeboah-Afari




Edmundo Drio, San Salvador Island, Luzon, Philippines

Sitting under this big tamarind tree is a good place to work. It's cooler with the breeze from the sea and I can stop the water buffalo making a meal of that cassava.

I'm slicing some rubber from this old inner tube so I can fix my speargun. I made the speargun myself. I use it to go fishing off the reef every day. I also wear these goggles: I carved them from wood and cut the lenses from some old plastic. They let me see the fish under the water. I can spear as much as ten kilos of fish on a good day. If I catch more than my family needs I can sell the extra in the market.

Do you hear the noise from that island over there? That's Magalawa. Over there they use 'boom-boom' fishing all the time. Go into any house and you can see dynamite. We used to do the same thing here until we made a 'fish reserve' around our island a few years ago.

I myself used dynamite for nearly 20 years. We would make our own with gunpowder and tin cans. But it was a dangerous business; I've seen hands blown off and men killed. We continued because there were always lots more fish and it was easy. We thought the sea was so big then; we could damage this reef and there would always be another with more fish. Now we know that's not true. The fish are beginning to return to our reef because all the fisherfolk on our island agreed to stop using dynamite.

Of course blast-fishing is illegal. But that makes no difference. Maybe the coastguards are deaf. Or maybe they're collecting a little 'grease money'. Some families blast as often as 20 times a day; even children use it. When I see the dead and broken corals I want to tell those who use 'boom-boom' to stop, but I am afraid they will attack me. Or maybe they will say 'yes, I will stop - but only if you promise to feed my family.'

reported by Wayne Ellwood


Hot water


J Nicholas Fernando, Negombo, Sri Lanka

J NICHOLAS FERNANDO Yesterday we caught only a few small fish, just enough for a curry for the family. When I have no fish to sell,. I have to borrow money from a neighbour or a relation to buy food for my family. We are fully dependent on the sea for our livelihood. Most fisherfolk are poor and don't own a boat. Those better off may own an oruwa (a small sailboat) or two, and some even have motor boats, but for the past 28 years I have been using other people's oruwas.

This year the catch has been poor. The sea is 'overheated', the water is getting 'burnt' because we have not had any rains for the past six months. I feel this is the wrath of the gods because people have become bad and inhuman. Some time ago it was quite different. The sun and the rain came at the correct time and we got a very good catch. All that has changed now - these days we cant catch a quarter as much as we could when I was a young man.

I don't use nylon nets. For deep-sea fishing I still use four cords (about 250 metres long) with a bait at the end of each. Besides this I also fish for prawns near the lagoon with a madel madiya - a small net with a side opening. Catching prawns is difficult because men in motor boats have spread massive nets all along the beach.

The sea has its hazards too. Three years ago my boat capsized in the middle of a violent storm. The waves were as high as a coconut tree. I remember it vividly. It was about ten in the morning and there were two others with me. All three of us held on for our lives. I removed my head cloth and started waving it. Floating in the deep sea, I prayed to God and asked for forgiveness for my sins. After an hour a boat spotted us and we were rescued.

I believe there will always be fish in the sea and that God will continue to give. Unfortunately human beings are responsible for scaring the fish in the sea in many ways. The sea is our life; I pray it will continue to sustain myself and my family.

reported by Kuman Dayananda


Day by day, nothing more


Juan Virgilio Delgado, San Mateo, Ecuador

JUAN VIRGILIO DELGADO I left school because I liked fishing better. When I was 18 I began to go out alone in a small wooden boat like a canoe. Almost every day I would bring in a marlin of maybe 50 kilos. There were many more fish then, and closer to shore: dorado, tuna, marlin. We weren't paid very much because there was no export; we'd take the fish to town and sell them in the local market.

Now it's harder to make a living. We can sell the fish for more because they are exported, but there are almost no fish close to shore. Ten or fifteen years ago, we could find fish less than 30 minutes out, but now we have to travel for two or three hours to reach them. Also there are many more people fishing, so every month there are less fish.

Four or five years ago the Japanese boats began to come. They are fishing for tuna and marlin - the same as us. The Japanese waste a lot of fish; with some they take off the fins and toss the rest back in the ocean. Also the big boats damage our nets. Our government made an agreement with Japan about a zone for the small fisherfolk. But when the big boats are caught violating the agreement there is so much corruption that they just pay a small fine to the Fisheries Ministry and go free.

There is also the problem of garbage going into the sea, especially during the rainy season when the rivers are high. There is no drainage, no sewage, and the only place for things to go is into the rivers and then into the sea. The fish are always looking for cleaner water, so they go farther out.

My father and grandfather fished for a living. I have five sons, and they all fish too. We have no land, and know no other life; we have always lived by the sea. We make a living but only to eat from day to day, nothing more. Sometimes I get tired of fishing and I want a change but I can't because there's no other work.

reported by Judy Blankenship

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