EFS Fishing Arts Vocational Course Sparks Business Interest Among Caribbean Coast Youth

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29 September 2016

September 30, twelve youth attending FADCANIC and USAID´s Education for Success (EFS) Fishing Arts Vocational Course in Bluefields will be completing the month-long technical part of their training to move on, October 3, to a week-long entrepreneurship workshop by which the program hopes to induce at least half these youth to the notion that producing traditional fishing gear is a profitable business they are perfectly capable of getting into.

EFS builds study, work and life skills of youth age 16 to 29 who risk exclusion from education and decent employment in the South Caribbean Autonomous Region of Nicaragua. The project added the Fishing Arts Course to its offer of vocational training this year, to attract out of school youth working in subsistence fisheries along the indigenous and afro descendant coastal communities in the region.

In this course, delivered by the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University (BICU), the term “art” is used in a broad sense to include fishing methods, the biology of the main commercial species, and environmental and fishing legislation. The bulk of the training, however, is on the artisanal gear. The young people learn to make and mend hand nets, throw nets, gill nets, as well as pots and traps for catching fish, shrimp, crab, and lobster. They even take these out into the lagoon to test for usability before receiving certification.

Regardless of their backgrounds
The first course was carried out in June and July 2016 with 16 youth from the communities of Awas, Raitipura, Haulover, Pearl Lagoon, Orinoco, Brown Bank, and Kahkabila in the Pearl Lagoon basin.

That first course met every expectation in terms of the skills and the motivation that the youth took away, as instructor Keith Bennet explains, to “make a better income from their fishing and open their minds to the business aspects by which they can have an ever better income regardless of their backgrounds.”

Hilson González and Elmer García are cases in point. Hilson 19, dropped out of school three years ago without completing the ninth grade. Elmer, 20, got at as far as the sixth. But they now are teaming up to set up shop in their native community of Orinoco motivated by the fact, as Elmer says, that “since we got back from the course in Pearl Lagoon people are asking, `So how much will you charge to fix this net for me?´ or ´I need a 12-foot gill net, can you make it for me in a week?”

The business potential is there and the boys have standing orders for crab and fish nets. When they completed the training in Pearl Lagoon they got toolkits including needles, hooks and lines, and now they are working always with Bennet´s help to develop a business plan. The plan will make them eligible for seed funding in materials, equipment and supplies amounting to up US$2,000 from EFS.

Hilson is just as excited as Elmer to start production. “People are interested because we can fit our nets to the size and type of fishing we do here in lagoon,” he said. “Right now everybody is buying ready-made nets in Managua or in Bluefields but the bales might be too big so you are kind of forced to overspend, and then the mesh is way too small so you are catching what you don´t want to catch, and then you still have to rope, lead and calibrate the net…. So if we can match the price and guarantee good, sturdy nets we are in business.”

And in the process, they will also be recovering an art —the homemade fish net— that has been disappearing from the community but is regaining significance in a context where, says instructor Keith Bennet, “our fishing resources are not as abundant as they used to be and so we are all waking up to the realization that if we are not selective about our methods and tools, we won´t be able to sustain neither our fish stocks nor our livelihoods.”

As it was, it didn´t take much to persuade the youth in the fishing arts training about the importance of knowing the details of national and communal laws enacted to protect the fishing resources. Said Bennett: “All the young people in the course are dedicated to some type of fishing and struggling to make a living with it. They could relate to all the content in the course from personal experience, and they took a great interest in all the new information and methods we were presenting.”

A comfortable learning ambience

The youth could also relate personally to Bennett. He is marine biologist born and bred in Tasbapouni, which is another primarily fishing community located in the Pearl Lagoon basin, and he speaks the three dominant language in the region —Spanish, Creole English and Miskito.

This, coupled with his first-hand knowledge of the names, ways and places of artisanal fishing in the area, meant he could relay the course instruction in terms that all the participants con truly understand whether he was talking about the science (say patterns of reproduction, migration and feeding of various species), the technology (how to use a GPS to mark nets and traps), or the art of knitting this mesh or knotting that rope.

Shelby Archibold, 18, from the Miskito community of Raitipura, expressed his appreciation. Shelby dropped out of the eight grade a year ago because he is the main breadwinner in his family and couldn´t quite find the motivation to combine his fishing work with night or weekend school.

At first he was concerned he might not even be able to keep up with the schedule of the fishing arts vocational course because “eight hours a day in the morning and in the evening is a lot!” he said.

But once the course started he barely noticed the time, he added. “The ambience was really good, and everything was really interesting and I would say that was because everybody was comfortable, at home, using their own language and their own way of talking. The class had a lot of theory in Spanish which not everybody understood 100 percent so somebody would always be saying, ´Prof tell me exactly what that means in Creole or English or Miskito´, and he would break it down to our level and they’d say, ´Oh! That is what you are talking about! I know how that goes!” When you find someone explaining like that, you take more interest and it keeps you going because you even get that happiness of saying to the teacher “Nice Prof, you can talk Miskito too!”

Shelby by the way, is also thinking business although in his case he is tending more to the idea of setting up a seafood store in the town of Pearl Lagoon, where currently they aren´t any. The town does have wholesale dealers shipping to buyers outside of the community but locals still buy directly from the fishermen as soon as they come into to the harbor, and after certain hours of the day it can be quite impossible to get fresh seafood. Shelby says he has a mind to up a shop if he can find a place in Pearl Lagoon which is not easy. “But it would suit me better that making nets to sell because I don´t enjoy the knitting so much”, he admits.

Which is another thing going for the Elmer and Hilson partnership in Orinoco. Elmer struggled perhaps more than anyone else in the course to learn how to make the nets due to what he describes vaguely as a “nerves” but which may actually be a mild palsy condition. Whichever it may be, this life-long affliction has also given him the determination to make his own way and be respected for his seriousness and his reliability. “Since I finished this course, all I do is practice. Now I can knit one ball of line in little over an hour. You need about four balls to make a good sized-net so right now I can guarantee a pretty fine net in less than a week.”

Gill-nets are going for nine to eleven thousand córdobas depending on the size, he continued, “so although I got my own paddling dory and keep on throw lines in the lagoon, I am looking for a way to get ahead and that is what I am concentrating on”.

Hilson is convinced he is well-suited for the enterprise too. He already crafts traditional Garifuna drums and earrings that he sells to tourists during the off-seasons when he can´t go out to sea to fish lobster with his older brothers. He is not as enthused about making budget calculations and devising sales strategies as Elmer, but is “ready to embrace this new part of the learning about how to set up and manage a profitable business”, he assures.

For him too, it is all about applying his best effort to achieve a better quality of living, said Hilson: “The teacher said something that just stuck in my head, you know. He said that if we want to have a constant job we need to keep on learning and trying out new things because if we don´t study, the only thing that is guaranteed is that will be struggling all the days of our lives.”

The youth attending the second edition of the EFS Fishing Arts course in Bluefields include more girls, more ethnic mestizo and more youth with university studies. And for them too, the course has confirmed its appeal and utility. As Sashka Wilson, a 20 year old third-year marine biology student from Corn Island declared: “It is fast productive learning for which you can see immediate results. As soon as you are finished you are ready to go and that practical part is what many of us are looking for because a university degree doesn´t mean you will get a job. But with the fishing arts you can start your own business as soon as you finish too and in that line, for me in Corn Island, all I see are possibilities.”



Since 2010, the FADCANIC and USAID´s Education for Success Project has benefitted 2270 children and youth 10 to 19 with access to basic primary and secondary education and 2169 youth 16 to 29 with technical vocational education. For more information, please contact EFS Program Coordinator Hazel Wilson Nash - hwilson@fadcanic.org.ni