MEXICO CITY, Feb 04 (IPS) – All of Erizo’s nightmares are the same. Since his return from the ocean – almost unrecognizable – every bad dream is identical. A wave punches his little boat and throws him into the deep sea where everything is so dark that he can’t even see his own hands.
He managed to keep afloat for eight days, clinging on to a big plastic jug of water, eating his own vomit, biting and eating live and raw fish for eight days.
During the first days, he prayed to God for survival. The next six days he prayed for death until on the last day when he closed his eyes and thought it was over — just to realize that a boat had rescued him and saved his life. “I didn’t die at sea, but a part of me is still there. Being a fisherman in this country is like having no life”, he told me.
Erizo and his friends are hired on verbal agreements by anonymous men who represent shady businesses. It’s a common strategy in the fishing industry that exploits the most vulnerable ones without paying any social costs or support. Hiring companies pay between 0.7 and 1.4 dollars per kilo of fish and shrimp respectively, which goes to “Central de Abastos” – the largest fish market in America. There it is sold at 15 dollars per kilo. In a fancy restaurant located in the rich neighborhood of Polanco in Mexico City, a shrimp soup could cost 35 dollars.
Of the small profits that the Mexican fishermen make, they must take off the cost of gasoline, food, helpers, boat maintenance and the fee to anchor on shore. Often they work with clear financial loss. Such is life for the 300,000 fishermen in Mexico, the country that is globally ranked 16th in seafood production. They produce 800,000 tons of food for a multibillion dollar industry. Yet, the fishermen work like slaves. Most of them earn and live 10 dollars a day. They don’t have health insurance, social security, or household credits. Also, no financial services are available to them nor any money to have fun or enjoyment in their lives, according to the “Social Impact of the Fishing Industry in Mexico” report.
The pandemic has deepened their poverty. The coronavirus has been a curse, but it can be a salvation: the fishing industry needs to transform and this is the ideal time to pay the long-time debt owed to these women and men, like Erizo. It’s now or never to demand better work quality for them. Regulations and sanctions imposed on abusive companies are essential in the new world after this global crisis of Covid-19 is over.
A country that devours the delicacies of the sea, leaving the people who bring it to their tables to starve only leaves a bitter rather than a good taste.
The author is a human rights activist who opened the first shelter for girls and teenagers rescued from sexual commercial exploitation in Mexico. She has published five books on preventing human trafficking; she is the elected Representative of GSN Global Sustainability Network in Latin America.
© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service