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Rant #287
(published July 20, 2006)
Letter from Juan Griego: On Fishing on Isla Margarita, and the Menace of the Chinese Fishing Fleet
by Bob Johnson
Dear Son,

80 degrees is never seen here—it gets to 85 at night. This is a really interesting place. I don't know whether it's for me yet. I want it to be.

I have been driving all over the island. I just left Zargoza beach. It's more fishing village than tourist beach. There were no tourists. The community had placed nets out into the sea but they reached all the way into shore. When I drove by, I was on a road two hundred feet above the village. I noticed a lot of people congregated on the beach and hundreds of brown pelicans. So I took the road down to the village-beach.

The people were pulling the net in. Everyone in the community was pulling fish out of the water, inside the net and out of the netting. I stood off to one side and watched. A ten year old boy had a plastic bucket. Others in the water grabbed fish and tossed the fish to their respective bucket keeper. This kid was grabbing the fish thrown his way and putting them in the bucket. It was filling quickly. The fish were sole or flounder. I'm not sure which. Whichever they are, they're very flat. Everyone was excited, happy and celebratory. It was quite a scene. Meanwhile the hundreds of pelicans were feasting on the fish inside the net as well. I have never seen so many brown pelicans.

Earlier at 6:45 am I walked the beach at Juan Griego. The fishermen were just returning. They brought in almost no fish at all. I asked and learned that fishing has been very bad. John Smith told me that Chinese fleets based in Grenada have taken huge amounts of fish out of the sea in the area. The Chinese fleets have ships that receive the fish, flash freeze them, and repeat the process until their holds are stuffed. They transfer the frozen fish to larger ships that sail away to China. They give the Grenadans the first fish caught. Those fish—although flash frozen—are at the bottom of the hold and are crushed by the weight of the subsequent catches.

So the Grenadans get fish, but it is the worst of the catch. The Chinese fleets have ruined fishing for the fisherman on Isla Margarita. This place would like to be a tourist magnet but it is primarily all about the fish.

They row out in large colorful dories or rowboats, or maybe the fisherman has a motor and he motors out, sets his nets and hauls in the nets. The amount of fish I saw brought in this morning on this beach would not feed one hundred people. The amount of fish I saw brought in at Zargoza beach, however, was astounding. Everyone had all they could carry.

I found a place mentioned in the travel book you got me and stayed there last night, in Juan Griego. The book said a French couple operated it. But I found the owners to be Dutch hippies. They bought the place from the French couple about five months ago. It is called "Patrick's Hotel & Bar," and it sports an Irish theme. I rented a room there. It did not have air conditioning, but the breezes here are such that it was just fine. The price for the room was 50,000 bolivares, or about 24 U.S. dollars.

I learned that a manager's wage is under 100,000 bolivars a week. The prices here are astounding. The people are hospitable, but my Spanish is poor and few Venezuelans speak anything but Spanish. This is a duty-free island and Spanish-speaking people from all over the area come here for the shopping, so there is little need for the people to pick up other languages.

If I do move here, job number one is to learn Venezuelan Spanish.


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