The port of San José is a quiet village where everyone knows each other. Most of the people who live there are fishermen, so it is not surprising that everything revolves around fish. The fishermen in San José are divided into two groups, those who go out just for one day trips (called “chalaneros”) and those who go out for one week or more (called “cortineros”). This time Philipp Hofmann of local NGO ProDelphinus accompanied one of the “chalaneros” as part of the Albatross Task Force project to identify seabird bycatch in small scale fisheries in the Humboldt Current.

Philipp provides a brief account of his trip here:

My day started at 8 in the morning. After my eyes adapted to the morning sunlight, I had breakfast at the local “Mercado”, consisting of a freshly made fruit juice and bread with avocado “pan con palta”. While enjoying my nice breakfast I called David, a local who works for IMARPE (Instituto del Mar del Perú) and knows everyone in the village.

While talking to David I started to eat faster because I had the premonition that he was about to say: “Get your stuff ready and come to the beach, they are leaving in a few minutes!” At that moment he said exactly what I expected to hear. I paid for my breakfast and headed quickly back to my room to pick up my survival kit for the boat.

When I arrived at the port, the fishermen were already waving their hands to signal that I needed to hurry up because the tractor was already pushing the boat into the water. The port of San José is pretty special because they use a tractor to push the boats in or pull them out of the water, so I jumped on the boat and we were away.

The first few meters near the coast are always slightly hazardous because the waves are pretty strong and therefore the boat is shaking a lot and there is a good chance of getting completely soaked. Everyone in the boat is concentrated and focused on getting out of this dangerous zone. After passing a few thrilling moments everything became calm and we starting to talk. To my surprise a young guy about the age of 12 was also onboard. He told me that he was on holiday and spent his free time with his father, the captain.

We passed other fishers from San José and even a traditional “totora” boat made from woven reeds and commonly used by the people of Lake Titicaca. To identify the best fishing area the captain turned off the motor and pressed his head against the deck of the boat to listen to the noises produced by the fish. Upon trying this myself I realized that one species (Paralonchurus peruanus), locally known as “suco” or “coco” make weird noises, presumably to communicate.  I learned that it’s not always necessary to be equipped with high-tech sonar to find a school of fish.

After just a few minutes the nets were set and the crew now had to wait until sunset to retrieve the nets. During this time the crew do whatever they like, some like to talk, some use the time to relax or to take a short nap and others like to listen to the typical music of this region called “cumbia”.

Entertainment comes from the various birds that pass by, like pelicans (Pelecanus thagus), blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii) and gulls. Beyond that there are guests who are not really desired but that show up from time to time, I am referring to the South American sea lions (Otaria flavescens) and fur seals (Arctophoca australis) who like to steal an easy snack right out of the net.

After two hours of hard work for the fishermen hauling the nets, we returned to the beach as fast as we could. Here is where the real work takes place because they need to get the fish out of the nets, and fix them in preparation for the next day. Before this could happen we needed to pass through the breaking waves again. The return turned out to be much more difficult as the boat is literally surfing the waves to get back to the beach.

Everything turned out well and we got back safe and dry, the tractor pulled the boat out of the water and the crew prepared for work on dry land. At this point my work was done, so I said goodbye to the crew and wished them good luck for the night. Handing me a bag full of freshly caught fish, the captain smiled to me and said “See you tomorrow!”