Gastronomy and Fishing
The Valdivia and Manteño cultures of the past were able navigators and excellent fisherman – a form cultural heritage that has survived into the 21st century. Like their ancestors, Puerto López’s current inhabitants live from the sea and its riches; fishing is their life’s blood. Artisan fishing is the predominant form. All of the Canton’s fishermen set out in their small boats to earn their living in the great blue sea. Wooden rowing boats and rafts with sails have all but fallen out of use. Instead, most fishermen currently use fiberglass boats with outboard motors, which allow them cover longer distances in less time. The fishing boats usually set sale in the afternoon to spend the night exploring their fishing spots and checking their lures, and then return to the beach at dawn. The fishermen practice their trade using sophisticated tools, such as longlines, trammels and cast nets, although in some instances, they use harpoons. The most frequent catches are, in descending order, sea bass (corvina), mote sculpin (camotillo) and mullet (cabezudo).
TO FISH IS TO LIVE BY THE SEA
The fishermen work every month the year following a schedule that corresponds with the new moon cycle and entails fishing 22 days of every month. Most artisan fisherman use a compass as their only navigation tool, given that they make very limited voyages; however, these trips do require planning on part of the fishermen, based on the knowledge and experience they have acquired over the years. According to the fishermen, their livelihood is currently threatened by industrial fishing monopolies, and they complain of large ships that draw away the fish, leaving nothing for small-scale fishing. As a result, artisan fishing has diminished, a trend which worries the local fishermen, especially at times when the water is clear and the fish stay close the seabed. In 1999, the port captain in Puerto de Manta banned industrial fishing in the area between Puerto López and Isla de la Plata. West of Isla de la Plata, the large companies are allowed to fish.
TYPES OF ARTISAN FISHERMEN
An artisan fisherman is defined as someone dedicated to catching fish and crustaceans, but within this definition there are also specialists: the shell fishermen (concheros), crab fishermen (cangrejeros) and shrimp fishermen (larveros). The concheros and cangrejeros dedicate themselves to collecting marine invertebrates and make up a small percentage of the overall workforce. Larveros, meanwhile, focus on collecting shrimp larvae. In addition, others do jobs that support the fishermen, such as fish cleaners, drillers, net makers, loaders, mechanics, carpenters and vendors, among others.
Fishing’s golden years in Puerto López occurred during the 19th and 20th centuries, when the sea was seen as an inexhaustible source of food. Puerto López’s relationship with fishing has developed under the influence of local traditions and religion. Nowadays, an organization called Aso Pescar, currently headed by ALIPIO PARÉALES, offers many benefits to its 80 members. The organization also runs a type of fishing terminal in the northern part of the bay that serves as an unloading point for catches and houses many other important services, such as small restaurants, gasoline stations and fish cleaners, among others. The terminal was built with financing from VECEP and the EUROPEAN UNION.
Local cuisine is based around seafood, especially fish, octopus and squid. The most common preparations are soups and ceviches, but other dishes are made using the spiny oyster (concha spondylus), which is believed to be a sacred mollusk. This shellfish is found in the ocean at depths between 20 and 120 meters, where it usually lives in colonies. Local gastronomy also encompasses hearty fish stews and criolla-style chicken, as well as cup of local coffee, an ideal accompaniment for any meal.