Fernando Valdez Ridoutt from ProDelphinus in Peru writes today's ATF blog:

It is not easy to figure out everything Peruvian small-scale fishermen go through to get their catch from sea to market. I have been discovering this in the port of San José, first hand. I have been working hard to collaborate with these fishermen and have been welcomed as an observer on several different boats.

Work begins between 8 and 11 in the morning. It depends on the boat, the fishing area and, most importantly, locating one of the tractor drivers who drag the boats from the beach to the sea! There are two types of fishermen in San José: demersal or bottom set nets (also called “chalaneros”) and pelagic or high seas driftnet fishers, also called “cortineros”.

Below: Members of the crew work the nets at sea off Peru

For chalaneros, fishing consists of one-day trips with three people aboard. Selecting a fishing area is like a race and whoever arrives first gets to choose where to set their nets. First come, first served. The nets are left in the water for a few hours before they are recovered and in the meantime the crew usually has time to have lunch, rest and talk.

Below: The crew of a chalanero show some of their catch

For the cortineros, the high seas fishermen, the trips are longer. They take at least 10 days and therefore require more elaborate planning. They need to coordinate with the rest of the crew, purchase food and fuel for their time at sea, and handle complex issues like getting back to shore before festivals or appointments that can’t be missed.

Life at sea is the complete opposite of having an established routine, although you have a plan and expect everything to go according to plan - even if we think that the captain has the final say - nature has a way of rearranging things. When fishing is not going well, there is usually a pod of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) or common dolphins (Delphinus capensis), who entertain you, as if they knew you needed a dose of happiness.

If fishing is good, the seabirds are often the first to arrive, from pelicans (Pelecanus thagus), gulls, blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii), to the guest of honor - the imposing waved albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) with their 2.5 meter wingspan. Waved albatrosses are standoffish but finally approach the boat to forage on the banquet of fish discards from the latest catch. If we are really lucky, we might even catch site of an austral migrant that migrate through these waters: the pink-footed shearwater (Puffinus creatopus). Interaction with all these seabirds are common in this in small-scale fishery.

Below: Waved albatross forage on fishery waste:

On returning to shore, your senses adjust little by little. A radical change occurs over a course of a few minutes from being in the middle of the sea to arriving in the chaotic port where everything happens so fast. After that comes the serene feeling of having completed my work.

The only thing that remains is to thank these fishermen for their kindness. While spending time at sea is amazing, the friendships and familiarity developed with the crew over a few days at sea is the most important experience on each trip.

Below: Fernando heading out to sea