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A bountiful device

Before the project started in 2005, the fishermen of Petit Paradis were too poor to eat their own catch. Now, a clever device has some fishermen making hundreds of dollars a week.

The big change is the advent of FAD, for “fish aggregating device.” FAD is a submerged structure of long cables that attracts plankton and small fish, which in turn lure bigger fish.

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Fondation Verte's Michel Simon (left) and François Ducarmel from FAES in front of the Petit Paradis fishermen's association. (Photo by Peter Bate)

In the case of Petit Paradis, three such contraptions are buoyed about two kilometers off shore, in the deep Canal du Sud between Haiti’s southern peninsula and the island of La Gonâve.

The FADs were installed as part of an income-generation project sponsored by Haiti’s government-run Social Investment Fund (known by its French acronym, FAES) and financed by the Inter-American Development Bank.

Over the past six years FAES has delivered dozens of these devices to 13 seaside communities around Haiti, assisting hundreds of traditional fishermen and their wives, who sell their catch in markets.

Under a local development program backed by a $65 million soft loan from the IDB, FAES has carried out more than 500 small-scale community investments, mostly in rural areas.  Projects are selected by local residents themselves, according to their own priorities. Some communities choose drinking water systems; others opt for latrines, solar panels, access roads, school buildings, health posts or public marketplaces.

In the case of Petit Paradis, the community chose FADs. The fishermen found out about the devices from Michel Simon, a Port-au-Prince businessman who runs a philanthropic organization, Fondation Verte.

Before the project started in 2005, fishermen used to go out to sea at dawn and often returned just before dusk. They would spend hours simply looking for plankton-carrying currents. The catch was typically so meager that their wives would have to sell all the fish just to buy the daily supply of rice and beans.

To supplement their incomes of around 100 gourdes ($2.50) a day from fishing, the men of Petit Paradis would chop down mangrove trees for firewood. While this activity helped put food on the table, it depleted the mangroves, which protect coastal areas from erosion and storm surges.

Just two weeks after the FADs were put in place, fishermen started bringing in bigger catches of bonito, mahi-mahi, rainbow runner, tuna, bream, sailfish and wahoo.

Project progress. Four years later, the president of the Petit Paradis fishermen’s association, Joseph Jean Mary Gelin, says that “life is going better now.

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Joseph Gelin, president of Petit Paradis fishermen’s association, shows one of the new freezers powered with solar panels.
(Photo by Peter Bate)

Their village has acquired solar panels that power public lighting and freezers. Children are going to school because their parents can afford tuition. Housing conditions are improving. Small businesses are opening. Microcredit is financing new coolers, fishing tackle and even bigger boats and motors.

Some fishermen are earning around $200 a week. An extraordinary week can bring in as much as $2,000. Fishing has become such a good business that it is luring back men like Gelin, who once worked in Port-au-Prince as a bookkeeper. The association has grown from 50 to 220 members.

At a meeting with Simon and FAES officials, the fishermen and their wives discuss what the next step should be. One member of the association argues in favor of building a cold storage room where they could keep fish when the catch is bountiful.

François Ducarmel, a FAES manager, advises the villagers to go step by step, gaining experience as they grow their business. “Think of where you were only three or four years ago,” he says. The fund, in fact, is assessing local needs, including potable water, latrines and schools. “We’re at the end of this project. Now we’re going to evaluate it and see how we can reinforce it,” Ducarmel adds.

More devices. The proliferation of FADs helped head off a potentially explosive dispute. When fishermen from nearby villages learnt about the success of the contraptions, they started to flock to the waters off Petit Paradis. Eventually FAES installed devices off the coast from other fishing villages, including Kapity.

With some 12,000 residents, Kapity has a reputation of being the largest fishing village in Haiti. Local leaders received visitors from FAES, Fondation Verte and the IDB in the community’s brand-new choucoun, a gazebo-like structure built on the water’s edge, where several boats were moored.

The choucoun is one of the latest projects backed by FAES, which has also financed latrines and water kiosks, solar panels to run freezers and public lighting, fish aggregating devices and fishing equipment, and an access road to Kapity.

“There was nothing here. Not even a road. We started from scratch,” says Michel Simon.

Jean-Claude Joseph Adler, president of the local fishermen association, says Kapity has two FADs, which have been in use for a couple of years. Incomes from fishing have risen dramatically, from around $10 a day to about $50 a day. Adler himself was able to save enough money in one year to build a new home for his family, which includes 10 children.

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