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dynamite fishing

by C & G

 
 
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Preface

We didn’t know exactly where they’d go, but we did know it was about 10 to 15 miles offshore. We knew that the evening fishing cycle takes place in one night and that the fishermen return in the morning and sleep during the day. We knew they did not have a radio. We knew that in the last 10 years three skiffs vanished without a clue. We knew that there would be a bucket of homemade explosives on board. 

We had found this northern corner of Nicaragua using Dark Site finder, a website that reveals the world in a vivid spectrum of colors representing light pollution. On the East Coast of the United States, you’d be lucky to find areas without any light pollution - in New York State, there is not a single place with true darkness. Perhaps it’s close-minded, or at least somewhat limiting, to explore a place based solely on how much light pollution it gets. I recognize how much color, adventure, and stories there are in metropolises across the world... however, I can’t help but feel drawn to the dark spots. 

The fishermen fish at night. Not necessarily because they are hiding anything or trying to conceal themselves. The lights on the boat reveal precise locations and the flash of the dynamite can likely be seen from the air. They fish in the darkness because the entire biome of the sea moves at night. There is a massive migration that happens every night all around the world where the deep rises to feed on the shallow. In Alaska, where I long lined out in the Gulf, the fish we’d pull in over a 24 period would change based on what was preying on them in the deep. The fishermen are thus taking part in a process that involves catching the predators that prey on food themselves. The whole night experience involves a food chain cycle that completes itself many times over before the sun rises.

It’s the first thing I notice whenever I leave a city, or a town or when I leave a house and step outside into the darkness. Like zooplankton eating smaller zooplankton, and fish eating smaller fish - the night also has layers of its own, and seems to swallow itself and grow bigger as you distance yourself from the light. That night we were heading out to sea, we were preparing ourselves mentally to experience a different kind of of darkness – a floating, rocking, darkness exposed to the wind far from the land. 

We arrived with the presumption that a place with true night is somehow of nature, one with the rhythm of the world we’ve stepped out of line with. But we quickly learned that this is at once both true and false - yet another spectrum. The dynamite represents the complexity that exists in this small Nicaraguan fishing community. How can a place so far from the noise of the world, with the largest tidewater estuary in Central America, have fisherman that throw bombs into the ocean to make their living?

-G

EL PESCADORE

 

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The Fisherman

On weekdays, he mends nets and makes dynamite by hand.

On weekends, he joins the community as a pastor.

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La Lancha

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"The Boat"

The boat is kept in a channel inside the estuary at low tide, villagers lend a hand and push supplies out on carts in exchange for fish the next morning.

A man hauls a used net back to shore.

A man hauls a used net back to shore.

The setting sun, marking the start to a long night out at sea.

 

La carnada

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"The Bait"

Mostly sardines, chopped and hooked with meditative precision.

Eye on the horizon and hand on the bait bucket.

Eye on the horizon and hand on the bait bucket.

 

La Noche

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"The Night"

Flashlights are placed in buckets and recycled milk cartons for illumination. Salty sea spray spatters the overpowering smells of fish and gasoline against our skin. Thousands of stars sprawl across the sky as the Milky Way slowly climbs above us.

 

BOOM!

Tiny squid are brought to the surface by the glow of flashlights, a ghostly jellyfish drifts under the boat. A lull. Then - the sploosh of the bomb, small enough to fit snugly inside your fist, dropping beneath the surface - a muted boom and momentary blast of white light - then, nothing once again.

 

TRANQUILO

The calm following the storm. Morning light fades slowly from pink to yellow, the fisherman sings and the sea sings back,

El Pescado

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“The Fish”

In a marine landscape scarred by blasts, few fish remain to be caught. So now stingrays are hooked and hauled, thrashing and flailing frantically out of the water. Their fins are sliced off and sold as imitation shark fin.

Despite the scarce haul, the captain distributes most of the fish to the men who helped load the boat the night before.

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One of many

buckets of homemade dynamite, weighted down with rocks. There have been too many accidents involving premature explosions and lost fingers.