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Fish magnets

Before the FAD, the men of this village scoured the sea from dawn to dusk in their dugout canoes to catch a few dollars worth of fish. Since the advent of the FAD they rarely spend more than four hours a day fishing and make three times more money than before.

FAD is the acronym for “fish aggregating device,” a submerged structure that creates an anchorage for microscopic plants and animals and hiding places for small fish. These in turn attract bigger fish sought by anglers or commercial fishermen.

In the case of Petit Paradis, three such devices are anchored about two kilometers off shore, in the deep channel between Haiti’s southern peninsula and the island of La Gonâve. The devices are in about 1,500 meters of water, with cables rising to surfboard-shaped buoys on the surface.

The devices are part of an income-generation project sponsored by Haiti’s Social Investment Fund (known as FAES) and financed by the Inter-American Development Bank. Over the past three years the government-run FAES has executed dozens of small-scale projects in rural and urban communities, drawing on US$65 million in financing approved by the IDB in 2003.

Under the program’s rules, communities select projects according to their own priorities. Some pick drinking water systems; others opt for rural roads, school buildings, health posts or public marketplaces.

The fishermen of Petit Paradis found out about the devices from Michel Simon, a Port-au-Prince entrepreneur who has had a beach house in the area for more than 25 years and runs a philanthropic organization, Fondation Verte.

Simon’s family has long been involved in the seafood export business. One of his brothers learned about the fish aggregating devices many years ago during a trip to Japan. The FAES local development program made it possible to install devices in Petit Paradis and in three other places: Fort Liberté in the northeast, Belle Anse in the southeast and Petite Rivière de Nippes, to the west of Petit Paradis. The project, which cost around US$45,000, has boosted the incomes and improved the living standards of hundreds of fishing families.

Before the project started in 2005, fishermen used to go out to sea at dawn and often returned just before dusk. They would fan out and spend three or four hours simply looking for plankton-carrying currents. Once a fisherman spotted one, he would beat his canoe like a drum to let others know where fish might be feeding. When they could not find a current they usually returned empty-handed. And even if they were lucky, the catch was usually so meager that their wives would have to sell all just to buy the daily supply of rice and beans. Actually eating the fish was a luxury they could not afford.

To supplement their meager incomes of around 100 gourdes (US$2.50) a day from fishing, the men of Petit Paradis would cut down mangrove trees and sell the wood to local bakers. While this additional activity helped put more food on the table, it was also devastating the mangroves, which play a key environmental role in protecting coastal areas from erosion and storm surges.

Just two weeks after the fish aggregating devices were put in place, fishermen started bringing in bigger catches of bonito, mahi-mahi, rainbow runner, tuna, bream, sailfish and wahoo. As they mastered the new technique, they spent less time on the water and made much more money, averaging around 500 gourdes (about US$12.50) a day. Some fishermen have been able to buy rowboats, which are larger and more stable than dugout canoes and can carry two or three anglers. These crews can hook large tuna, the marine equivalent of a bumper crop. One man once made 15,000 gourdes (US$375) in a single day. He bought a second boat and put a new roof on his house. “He’s an important man in the community now,” said Simon.

Image removed.Thanks to simple technology, fishermen spend less time on the water.

With more time on shore, fishermen can better maintain their boats and equipment. On full moon nights they can go out and locate the devices using GPS equipment provided under the project. High school students often go fishing in the afternoons on their parents’ boats to make pocket money. The fishwives, who sell the catch in nearby towns and to local restaurants, have managed to displace the imported fish that used to dominate the market. Fishing has become lucrative enough to lure back men like Joseph Gelin, who had left Petit Paradis to work as a bookkeeper in Port-au-Prince. Gelin was more than happy to return to his community, where he now leads the Association of Fishermen of Grand Goâve.

A tall young man of solemn mien, Gelin and dozens of fellow fishermen, their wives and children recently greeted a couple of visitors from FAES and the IDB. Reading from a statement in the name of the association’s more than 110 members, he noted the progress achieved through the fish aggregating device project. They now need bigger coolers to transport the catch, he said, and they could use training in salting and smoking to preserve what is not sold fresh or consumed by their families, who have added fish to their diets.

But there’s also the prickly issue of the fleets that come in from the adjacent island of La Gonâve and the town of Léogâne, 15 kilometers up the coast, to fish close to the devices in Petit Paradis. Under Haitian law the sea is public property; no one can claim it for exclusive use. Gelin and his neighbors, who contribute part of their catch to the Association of Fishermen of Grand Goâve for maintenance of the devices and to purchase gear, resent the outsiders who arrive early and leave late, prompting concerns about over fishing.

FAES coordinator Jean-Pierre Heurtelou acknowledged the problem. An obvious solution would be to anchor the devices closer to the other locations, but under the rules of the local development program the fund can only finance projects initiated by the respective communities. “The fishermen from La Gonâve and Léogâne are not only poor but also not very numerous in their own communities, which may have other priorities. But we’re looking at alternatives in order to avoid conflicts,” he added.

As for the fears about depleting the stocks in the waters around Petit Paradis, Heurtelou pointed out that the fishermen catch pelagic species that swim by the devices as they travel along their migratory routes. “These are long trips. Why shouldn’t fish have gas stations where they can stop along the way?”

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