Every time I visit a fishing community, I find myself nervous and excited. It is not easy to approach people you have never met before and ask for something as intimate as their fishing stories. But, if you overcome the initial shyness, you might meet some of the most interesting people in your life. When old fishers open up, you get to step inside their world for a few minutes or maybe hours. Through their stories, you get to enjoy different landscapes that stood right where you are standing. River mouths that cease to exist, small communities that grew to become cities, and an abundance of marine resources that younger generations have never witnessed.
How do you find experienced fishers? The ones with the best anecdotes and tons of knowledge? Well, you just have to ask. Most fishers I have met live in close-knitted communities, they know each other, and they can easily tell you who you are looking for.
In places like Campeche, Mexico, where sharks and rays have been fished for hundreds of years, most fishers have a lot to tell you about these animals. From their favourite species to eat to their favourite species to look at, because, who says shark and ray fishers cannot appreciate their beauty?
So, you finally found the legendary fisher who everybody keeps telling you about. Now, what? Well, you introduce yourself and tell them about your research and what do you plan to do with the information they share with you. This last part is really important if you want to build good relationships with fishing communities.
If everything goes according to plan, get ready, you are going to step back in history and learn so much about fishing and its changes. The different shark and ray species in the area, the species that are dangerous to fish (which may be illustrated by pointing at some scars), and hear a lot of personal anecdotes. You may also learn about species that have decreased or disappeared over time, and witness how fishers are the first to feel saddened by the decrease in shark and ray numbers.
By the end of the day, you might realize that fishers are not the enemy, but they can certainly be some of the most important allies for shark and ray conservation.