As Guanabara Bay gets ready to stage nautical competitions in the 2016 Olympics, one community is striving not to get completely run down in the process. Fishermen complain they are losing space in Guanabara Bay as the petroleum and shipping industry continues to grow.
According to the chairman of Rio State Fishermen’s Federation, Gilberto Alves, corporations operating in the bay are failing to compensate the fishermen for their loss of business.
“This is the most appalling disregard for a bay that provides a source of food for so many people. Every day there are more and more companies operating on the bay, and the fishermen are getting pushed aside and having to compete for space with large vessels,” he said.
Alves says he has not seen any improvement in water quality and complains many species of fish “are disappearing from the area. All there’s left now is shrimp, mullet, and some croaker, but years ago, there were over a hundred species of fish, four types of ray, six types of catfish, and a variety of mullets within the bay. They have all been taken from us.”
He explained that fishing is forbidden in environmental protection areas, Navy territories, and within a range of 500 meters from such equipment as vessels, pipelines, and terminals. According to the Ministry of Fisheries, “although restrictions apply in certain areas, nearly everywhere else in the sea is available for artisan fishermen to fish from.”
Moreover, the ministry says, corporations offer compensation for restriction areas created by technology projects “in cases of proven economic impact on fishing activity.”
Brazilian state-run oil giant Petrobras, for example, says it conducts a “thorough impact study” before licensing any projects, adding that “the licensing authority sets compensatory measures and monitors implementation.”
Also according to Petrobras, areas under fishing restriction are established by the Port Authority, and “fishing downtime during projects carried out by Petrobras is appropriately compensated to the fishermen.”
Furthermore, some fishermen are hired to take on supporting roles in the projects and participate in the corporate social-environmental initiatives.
Francyne Vieira, Fishing Coordinator for the Fisheries Institute of Rio de Janeiro (FIPERJ), said seafood production in Guanabara Bay remains large. “Fishermen claim that fishing used to be much more productive before, but the bay still provides a great source, which only attests its environmental resilience.”
But for those who live on fishing, making a living is getting increasingly harder. Jorge Pescador (“Jorge the Fisherman”), from Praia Vermelha, says he has to juggle additional jobs in order to make a living.
Currently he is renting kayaks. “I still fish, but the amount of business I can do has declined significantly because of pollution and overfishing. Sometimes you hardly catch a fish, sometimes you will catch three snook – ten snook being too many.
“It’s not like you dive in and see a flatfish or a grouper any more. In the past 15 years or so, fish have been growing ever more scarce. Renting kayaks out is greater return on investment than fishing is.”
Asked about the quality of fish for consumption, infectious disease physician Edimilson Migowski explains that water contamination with sewage has no significant impact if the fish is well cooked, but chemical contaminants are not completely removed.
“When you eat well cooked fish you’re unlikely to get any kind of contaminant like viruses, bacteria and other live agents. But heavy metals, such as lead, aluminum, mercury, pollutants from nearby factories can cause poisoning.”
Marine biologist Rodrigo Gaião, from NGO Guardiões do Mar, says heavy metals are found in greater amounts in seafood known as “filter feeders, such as mussels and oysters. They remove everything that they find in the water mass.
“It’s ok as long as it’s only organic stuff, but unfortunately heavy metals are found in high concentrations in some points of Guanabara Bay. Surveys show that crabs have little or no such concentrations in their claw meat. But in their inner viscera heavy metals are found in larger amounts. Hence the need to be particularly cautious about consumption,” he warned.