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Fishers in Brazil Sailing for a Cause

(Les pêcheurs du Brésil font voile pour une cause)

Chandrika SHARMA

01 / 1998

The jangadeiros, fishermen of northeast Brazil who sail on small rafts (jangadas), have had considerable impact on Brazil’s history. For instance, in 1884, Cearä was the first state to abolish slavery. Propelling this path-breaking decision was a yearlong protest by the jangadeiros, led by Francisco José do Nascimento, the `Dragon of the Seas’, the founder of the Liberation Society of Cearä.

In 1941, it was the turn of `Jacaré’ to sail for 61 days to Rio de Janeiro with three other fishermen from Fortaleza, on a raft made of six tree trunks, to tell the President about the miserable working conditions of jangadeiros and their need to be included in the social security system.

A new protest movement came to life in the early 1990s in the small fishing community of Prainha do Canto Verde in Cearä. Work to organise fishers into a co-operative had begun in 1991 to help liberate them from the network of intermediaries that was exploiting their hard work and pocketing huge profits by buying their catches at manipulated prices. It soon became clear that there were other forces at work to keep the fishing communities in extreme poverty.

Real estate speculators were buying up beach property using corruption and threats, while, at sea, a growing fleet of motor boats had started to capture ever-growing quantities of lobster using ill-equipped divers and capturing ever-smaller juvenile lobsters.

The authorities failed to intervene in the growing conflict between artisanal fishermen on their fragile jangadas and armed bandits on motor boats, as four fishermen lost their lives from enemy fire at sea.

This prompted a spirited campaign in the shape of a 76-day voyage, from Fortaleza to Rio de Janeiro, of the jangada, S.O.S. Sobrevivência, to highlight the plight of the fishermen of Cearä.

The idea behind the trip was to unite the fishermen of various communities and supporting NGOs.

The trip was carefully planned by a group of young fishery engineers from the local university and volunteers from NGOs working on issues of fishery, ecology and human rights. Twenty stops were planned along the coast of Brazil. Contacts with a variety of groups, fishermen’s colonies, women’s and human rights groups and other movements were planned at each port.

Press releases were made ready to brief journalists about the great range of problems facing coastal communities all over Brazil.

The trip received enormous media coverage. For the campaigners it was also a time to make friends in new places. The problems that were discussed with the communities in different ports invariably turned to pollution of coastal areas and wetland from industry or sugar cane plantations. There were also problems relating to fishing by divers, trawlers or those using dynamite.

Another common problem was real estate speculation that drove fishermen’s families from their homes and threw them back into the hinterland, in some cases forcing them to travel over two hours by bus to go to work.

Back in Fortaleza, four workshops were organised on the themes of the campaign-irresponsible fishing of lobster; real estate speculation; neglect of artisanal fishing; and irresponsible tourism development. These attracted a good number of experts, students and others interested. The workshops were the basis for concrete proposals that were presented to all the interested parties and sent to the President of Brazil, Itamar Franco, with

signed petitions.

The President did not respond to the request from the fishermen for a personal audience in Brasilia to present the petition. The Governor of the State of Cearä did not appear and never responded to the proposals. To a foreign journalist, he declared that the jangadeiros are long overdue for display in museums.

Despite the negative response of government officials, the fishermen of Cearä did not give up and, over the years, kept up the pressure by forging new alliances to unite the fishing communities.


pêche, organisation de pêcheurs, dégradation de l’environnement, gestion des ressources naturelles

, Brésil, Ceará


The growing movement of fishers is bound to have a lasting and positive impact on artisanal fisheries in Brazil. It will help highlight the common problems facing artisanal fishing communities all along the coast of Brazil. There is an urgent need to question `developmental’ processes that displace coastal communities, that pollute coastal waters and that destroy and over-exploit marine resources. The formation of a strong pressure group of

fishers and their communities is likely to draw attention to such unsustainable forms of development.


Articles et dossiers

SCHARER, René, Sailing for a cause in. Samudra Report, 1997/07, 18

ICSF (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers) - 27 College Road, Chennai 600006, INDIA - Tel. (91) 44-2827 5303 - Fax (91) 44-2825 4457 - Inde - - icsf (@)

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