A crucial part of the local economy and food movement, Puerto Rico's small-scale fishermen and women are fighting their way back with the help of our supporters.
Broadening Our Definition of the Local Food Movement
When we started the Paloma del Carmen Fund, our mission was to help farmers of our native Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria and over the long term. With 85% of Puerto Rico's food unnecessarily imported, we made it our focus to support small farmers who are dedicated to the dream of locally and sustainably grown food to nourish the people, culture, and economy of the island.
In the course of talking with our network in Puerto Rico and carrying out our own research, it became clear that our definition of the local food movement was too narrow. Puerto Rico is an island, after all, and we were overlooking a key component of the island's history, culture, and economy — fishing.
So with new found clarity and excitement, we have broadened the scope of our outreach to include the island's small fishing associations, in addition to its small farmers. We are convinced that both sectors have significant untapped potential and that supporting both is key to creating a more sustainable Puerto Rico.
Artisanal Fishing Associations of Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico's coastline is dotted with 172 fishing associations, each supporting between 10 and 40 community members. These associations provide individual fishermen and women with professional support, shared equipment and storage facilities, a marketplace to sell their catch, and a collective voice to lobby for their social, economic, and political interests.
Like small farmers, members of these small fishing associations consider themselves "artisans" focused on delivering a high-quality product. Artisanal fishing, which consists of short trips close to shore, is small-scale, low-tech, and low-capital. Compared to industrial fishing, artisanal fishing is less wasteful, less energy-intensive, and less stressful on fish populations, not to mention it helps keep local economies alive.
The vast majority of seafood consumed in Puerto Rico is imported and produced by industrial fishing companies. Certain laws make imported seafood cheaper to buy for restaurants, hotels, and other businesses, but these short-term savings work against a sustainable future for Puerto Rico. These current laws and buying practices endanger local jobs, the local economy, and the security of local fish stocks.
At the Paloma del Carmen Fund, our long-term goal is to help Puerto Rico sustainably maximize its artisanal fishing potential by improving the connection between local supply and demand through education programs, colloborative partnerships, diverse business models, and new technologies. We also plan to provide fishing associations with low-cost microloans, and the interest earned will be used to fund new initiatives.
Rebuilding after Hurricane Maria
Most of the island's 172 fishing associations sustained significant damage in last year's hurricane. Our immediate focus is to help as many fishing associations as possible rebuild piers and kiosk marketplaces, replace boat motors and other equipment such as refrigerators and freezers, and install solar panels so that associations are no longer reliant on the island's weakened power grids.
Piers are an essential part of the coastal economy and culture of the island, and most of them were destroyed in the storm. Rebuilding these piers is especially urgent so that fishermen have a safe place to dock their boats and efficiently unload their catch, and so that locals can continue the tradition of parking their boats to buy and consume seafood on the beachfront.
As of November 1, 2018, thanks to our generous supporters, we have provided $33,212 worth of building materials and equipment to 5 fishing associations:
Combate Fishing Association, Cabo Rojo — 10 fishermen
Villa Le Mela Fishing Association, Cabo Rojo — 22 fishermen and women
Villa Palmeras Fishing Association, Cabo Rojo — 40 fishermen and women
La Puntita Fishing Association, Yabucoa — 16 fishermen and women
Thomas Ayala, Culebra — 1 fishermen