Lost Mazatlecan Tradition?

DSC_4630©Mazatlán has a tradition of fishing that dates back probably a thousand years: shrimping with hand nets. The gorgeous way the tarayas spread out and then splash onto the water has always fascinated me; it’s a very tranquil, rhythmic dance. Below are a couple sequences of the net throwing, to give you a better idea.

Riparian shrimp fishermen go out in small pangas in pairs. Reminiscent of the gondoliers of Venice, the non-fisherman sits in the back of the boat and holds a long stick (la palanca, made of mangrove wood) with which he pushes the boat through the shallow lagoon or estuary. The second person stands in the front of the panga and casts the net. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Watching shrimp fishermen work in the estuaries and lagoons of Mazatlán has brought me joy since I first arrived here on La Bala train in 1979. Back then much of the Golden Zone was still covered with waterways (Laguna Gaviotas and Estero El Sábalo), as was the whole of the marina area (Salvador Allende). El Venadillo, Laguna del Camarón and Estero del Yugo were much larger. And there were shrimpers everywhere! We were all in shrimp heaven!

Just as we can hail an oyster diver or a fishermen to buy his catch today, up to a few short years ago we could buy the catch direct from shrimpers easily here in Mazatlán. But now? It’s a gorgeous and delicious tradition awaiting the final nail in its coffin. I posted a couple of photos on Facebook a few days ago of buying shrimp from the shrimpers in Estero de Escopama, and I immediately had about 20 people asking me privately (they don’t want others to know!) the secret to where they could go to buy such shrimp. Now that we’ve cemented over our waterways, we have to travel that much farther to see the beauty of the tarayas.

If Mazatlán were Patzcuaro, we’d be promoting the beauty of our traditional fishing methods as tourist attractions. There, of course, the “butterfly net” fishermen catch tourist tips much more frequently than they catch fish. In Mazatlán, however, we seem to have purposefully worked the past 50 years to kill our centuries-old tradition. At the same time we seek UNESCO certification as a Creative City in Culinary Arts, we lose the tradition for harvesting the shrimp for our famous aguachiles.

I was very fortunate to be welcomed into the last hand net shrimping cooperative in our city, The Veterans of the Mexican Revolution. They most kindly agreed to take me out with them while they fished. The first day I joined them, they caught 135 kg of shrimp that they sold to the owner of a pescadería at the Stone Island Embarcadero. The second day I joined the group they sadly caught far less: maybe 35 kg. They told me that was because it’s the end of the season, and because it was a cloudy day. Cooperative members share equally in their catch. Some may choose to take their daily pay in shrimp, others prefer cash. Either way, it’s equal: you fish, you get paid.

85 year old José Ibarra Rodriguez is the only surviving founder of the cooperative. In the video below he tells me that they started the fishing cooperative in 1967, and their first day of fishing was August 16, 1968. At the time, they purchased a 50 year federal concession to fish. There are currently 24 members in the co-op.

However, due to the government losing documentation, and to the emphasis on tourism and development over the environment, over the years they have lost most of the estuaries that they used to fish, and are currently fighting over the rights to everything between Escopama and Pozole (Dimas).

The estuaries and lagoons of Mazatlán used to be lined with mangroves, filled with shrimp and fish, and home to endemic and migratory birds. Our gorgeous bay, dozens of miles of beaches and the wetlands, with our view of the Sierras to the east, is what attracted the Who’s Who of Hollywood as well as so many renowned writers and artists to our city.

The sad thing to me is that very soon we will have to go even farther to see the beauty of the tarayas. Other fishermen in the group tell me they have lost their concession to fish the Escopamas, and that the Salinitas concession has also expired. Mazatlán’s centuries-long culinary tradition continues to die out at the very time we seek UNESCO accreditation.

I leave you with a few happier shots of the pelicans that gladly clean up the smaller fish that the fishermen fail to throw back in, as well as some cormorants fighting over a fish.

Women Artists of Fishing

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The fish scales remind me of flower petals. These bracelets look like leis.

Today I bought some gorgeous handmade jewelry at unbelievably good prices, and my purchase directly benefitted families in need in Mazatlán. This is not a story of charity but rather self-help—a terrific model of women-owned micro-business of the kind that development experts tell us builds strong and healthy communities.

Called Mujeres Artesanas de la Pesca, these twelve local women have officially registered as a cooperative of artisans dedicated to building better families, to personal development, social responsibility and environmental sustainability. They are a strong team of women who have experienced some of the worst that life has to offer yet remain hardworking and committed to helping their families and one another, as well as to growing their outreach and membership in support of our local economy. The day I visited, the women were bustling about, everyone working hard and shoulder to shoulder, so many projects at once that it was difficult to keep track. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

We all know that Mazatlán is home to Mexico’s largest shrimping fleet, an industry that employs thousands. The shrimping season, however, can be as short as four months a year. How is a fisherman to sustain a family on four months of wages? Of course, they try to find another job during the off-season, but that is challenging.

A year and a half ago this group of fishermen’s wives joined one of ANSPAC Mazatlán’s classes on personal growth to learn skills and cultivate the confidence and connections to help provide for their families, including education and healthcare for their children. During the program the group developed the idea of making jewelry out of fish scales, and after completing graduation they ran with it.  They have beautiful earrings, bracelets, necklaces and keychains available for 50 to 200 pesos, though they are contemplating increasing their prices.

Their husbands’ employer, Operadora Maritima del Pacífico, set aside a storefront and workshop space for them. The women manage the enterprise themselves; Maribel is the manager and Chabelita is in charge of sales. Jessie is disabled and works from home. They’ve furnished their workspace and sales area themselves and purchased a coffee pot and water dispenser for the kitchen. The group has sold their jewelry at the cruise ship docks, the Aquarium, and the El Cid Bazaar. They are very excited that the State Secretary of Tourism has recently begun purchasing their items—local, socially responsible and eco-friendly handicrafts—for their incoming guests.

The women hope that their project will help discourage illegal fishing and over-fishing as well as encourage others to be more responsible in putting garbage in its place and limiting the use of plastics to protect the ocean and our environment. “The ocean is the heart of our planet,” is one of their sayings.

The company has also helped by bringing in experts to teach the women what they need to know. On the day I visited the shop, Gabriel Aguilar Tiznado, an engineer, was visiting for the second time. He is from Tepic, Nayarit. He first came to teach the women how to cure and dye the fish scales for use in jewelry. This time his task is three-fold:

  1. The women want to dye the fish scales silver and gold, in addition to the bright colors they are already producing.
  2. They want to learn to tan the fish skins into leather, and have already made wallets, keychains and earrings with a gorgeous texture and color.
  3. Perhaps most interesting of all, they are learning to extract collagen from the fish scales. Collagen is the most expensive substance made from fish, costing more than the meat itself, and has been found beneficial for skin, hair, joints, internal organs and, at certain stages of cancer, can be used to inhibit tumor growth.

Soon a Mazatlecan artist who resides in Guadalajara, Tusi Partida, who recently won an award for her artisanal leather shoes, will work with the women to teach them more skills. They are currently looking for a sewing machine and leather working tools, including manual stamps, to help them with this next phase of their project. Below are a few photos that I received of her work.

Working with the wives of their employees is something that Operadora Maritima del Pacífico sees as a social responsibility. They view their enterprise as a family and want to educate everyone from the captain of the boat to the fishermen to take care of our oceans and value them. According to the women, one of the biggest joys of their venture, in addition to the income and learning, is the friendship, the fact that they’ve learned to collaborate and support each other. “Too many women spend time pulling each other down. Here we pull each other up. We are in this together,” one of the ladies told me.

The women use fish skin that is cast off at the embarcadero and even some of the markets around town—tilapia, sole, mahi… Going forward they envision that a husband could get a panga and his wife and kids could make these handicrafts with what they catch, thus producing a family-owned business. In the meantime, they’re dedicated to finding more outlets for their products and to diversifying their product line.

You can visit the Mujeres Artesanas de la Pesca shop between 9am and 1pm Monday through Saturday. It is located near the embarcadero to Stone Island—the one with the fish market, on the port side of the street right across from the Pemex station. The group’s name is on the sign out front.

Mamut!

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The archeological museum in Mazatlan (located on Sixto Osuno, across from the Art Museum) has a very large visitor on display until August 25. I encourage all of you to take some time to go check out: Mamut: The Prehistoric Giant.

What is Mamut? Mamut is mammoth in English. So, yes, there is a huge frigging mammoth skeleton sitting inside our little, often unnoticed and sorely under-appreciated, museum. This particular mammoth is on loan from Mexico City. If any science nerds are wondering, it is a Columbian mammoth. It was brought here in crates from Mexico City and took a team of five archeologists 12 complete days to reassemble. It is a sight to behold.

The museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., seven days a week. The cost is only 45 pesitos and you get to see much more than a mammoth. The museum is chock full of pieces of history from Sinaloa and beyond with many placards in English if your sciencey Spanish is a little rusty. Pro Tip: get in free any day with your INAPAM card, and Permanent Residents get in free on Sundays. Gilbran, Director of INAH for Sinaloa, is generally there and speaks great English.

As recently as 10,000-15,000 years ago, mammoths roamed Sinaloa and other parts of Mexico. If you think banda is loud, can you imagine the sound and feeling of a pack of fifty 4-ton beasts coming towards you? This mammoth was not discovered locally, but rather in Ecatepec in 1995. The bones displayed are 80% original to this animal with missing parts replaced with bones from other mammoths or modeled. This is the reason one leg appears shorter than the others, as it was missing and another mammoth had to supply the replacement.

Cause of death is not known, but it’s pretty certain that some of our early ancestors ate well off the missing leg—whether hunted or scavenged. This mammoth died early at around age 25. Mammoths are known to have lived easily to be 80 years old. I could bore you with facts and figures, but suffice it to say, it’s big, it was heavy, and it’s here. Go check it out!

Oh, and here are some pictures (thanks Dianne):

Just click any photo to see it larger.

 

City Nature Challenge

43676323_731335040547404_6810896483013885952_oOutdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists and photographers delight in the wealth of flora and fauna to be found in Mazatlán. Now we have a terrific chance to let the world know about the incredible biodiversity of our urban area—we are much more than just sun and beach!

Francisco Farriols Sarabia, local naturalist guru, along with our Faculty of Marine Sciences have registered Mazatlán for the City Nature Challenge 2019, or Reto Mundial de la Naturaleza Urbana. The effort is officially supported by the Secretary of Tourism (SECTUR) and the National Commission on Biodiversity (CONABIO). The goal is to put us firmly on the international ecotourism map. I hope that you, your friends and family will join in as citizen ecologists! If you are a teacher, let’s get the students involved, too! There is a nice online education toolkit. Let’s do this! Let’s put Mazatlán on the map for good reason!

The challenge will take place April 26-29, 2019, and there will be several pre-event warm-ups or “BioBlitzes.” To participate you’ll need your cell phone or a camera and the iNaturalist app—you can install it on your phone and/or register and use via your desktop on a web browser. If you prefer to work in Spanish, the fully synched Mexican equivalent is Naturalista.mx.

City Nature Challenge is an initiative started in 2016 as a friendly competition between Los Angeles and San Francisco during Citizen Science Day. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California Academy of Sciences wanted to highlight urban biodiversity in their cities, and asked residents and tourists alike to help them document it. The multi-day effort met with such success that, three years later, over 100 cities worldwide are registered to participate! Their website states that in 2016:

Over 20,000 observations were made by more than 1000 people in a one-week period, cataloging approximately 1600 species in each location, including new records for both areas. During the 2016 CNC, we heard so much excitement and interest from people in other cities that we decided we couldn’t keep to the fun just to ourselves. In 2017 the City Nature Challenge went national, and in 2018, the CNC became an international event!

I first learned about City Nature Challenge back on October 13th, when Paco (Francisco) held a meeting of local photographers up at Estero del Yugo, to help get the effort started. Since then Paco has decided to hold mini-challenges, to help more people become involved and ready for the big effort.

48380454_2035974423369486_863078217911631872_oThe second BioBlitz or mini-challenge will be held at the lighthouse beginning 8-11am on Saturday January 12th. Register with inaturalist.org and bring your cell phone or camera of your choice. Together we’ll have fun, get out, breathe some fresh air and get some exercise, and learn a bit more about our local flora and fauna. It’ll be a great way to get trained and prepared for the main challenge in April!

iNaturalist.org is a really cool platform where normal people like you and me can register photos we take of plants, animals, insects or marine life. We upload a photo we’ve taken, along with the place and the date on which we captured the pic. If you know what the plant or animal is, you label it. If not, somebody who does know will fill it in for you, and you can “accept” their ideas and recommendations, or choose which one is correct. In this way we all learn a bit, and scientists are able to track migration routes and the proliferation of different species. Paco himself has more than 35,000 identifications and 2200 species registered! Me? I have about ten…

I hope you’ll join me, both on the January 12th and in April for the main event! Please help me get the word out by sharing this and inviting your friends and family to join in! Together we can build more ecological awareness and care in our fair city.

Parque Central / Central Park Update

4d55d780179b1adbc4563c98da8f4dc1I announced the new Central Park to you back in 2014, to be built on the site of the current Bosque de la Ciudad in front of the baseball stadium. Plans, naturally, have changed significantly since then, as you can see on its new website. The developers are excellent marketers, the designs are very modern and world-class, and I know this will be a huge boon to tourism and hopefully to schoolchildren and the general community in Mazatlán.

Construction of the Avenida de la Bahía and the park thus far have been a total destruction of the environment, preceded by the burning of the laguna which murdered thousands of turtles, nesting birds, iguanas and badgers, then by filling in nearly two-thirds of it. The one saving grace is that the new avenue will provide much-needed parking for those nearly 1000 spaces lost when they remodeled the malecón, and it will provide access during the sporting events (marathon, triathlon, etc.) that so often close the Avenida del Mar.

We have reported on concrete mixers and painters cleaning out their trucks into the estuary with zero regard for the environment. Our video on that was shared tens of thousands of times, to no avail. The road is nearly done now, and the estuary is nearly completely filled in with reclaimed land. The builders have a lovely video on their site where they show a biologist relocating some of the animals from the current Bosque de la Ciudad to make room for construction.

It looks like the plan is to completely scrape out the existing lagoon and build small islands that will be accessible by paddle boat to visitors. Our current park is a habitat to so many large migrant birds; I do pray they will continue to visit the new man-made, modern lagoon.

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The new park does look lovely if you don’t think about the flooding that it is most likely to cause. I hope it will be accompanied by civic education around litter and the environment as they’ve said, because otherwise those small islands in the pond are going to become trash heaps. Good news is that designs include water circulation to keep things fresh, and hopefully lots of trash cans and cleaning staff.

I love that the new 5 million liter aquarium, which looks like it will completely replace the old one, will have an exhibit dedicated to Jacques Cousteau, champion of the Sea of Cortés, though no doubt he is turning in his grave to know the environmental destruction leading up to its construction. Greg is excited for the Food Truck Park and the promise it brings.

 

I am excited about the museum as well, designed to look like an oyster, since we are the “Pearl of the Pacific.” It is supposed to contain an IMAX theater and the second floor will have a killer view of the ocean, supposedly, though I think we have so many towers on the malecón that that could be challenging. Best part? The map seems to show it occupying the corner of Insurgentes and Avenida del Mar, where Geronimo’s has stood vacant for how many years. Will be great to get rid of that eyesore!

Plans still include two walkways from the park out to the malecón, which would be hugely welcome to all those who enjoy sports and the outdoors. I’m confident the park will be a huge boon to the city, as long as we can keep it clean and maintained. I remain saddened that “development” has to mean “destruction of nature.”