The fishers of spiny lobster and golden crab on the Pacific island of Robinson Crusoe, Slow Food Presidium since 2005, have received a Denomination of Origin for their products...
The shores of a fabled volcanic islet, part of a remote archipelago in the middle of the southern Pacific, are a hive of activity.
Robinson Crusoe Island, 670 kilometers off the Chilean coast from Valparaiso, is part of the Juan Fernández archipelago. Most of the 800 inhabitants rely on fishing for their livelihoods. The island's fishers, united in an association, live almost entirely off the fishing of spiny lobster and golden crab. The Slow Food Presidium for the island's seafood, open in 2005, works to support and recognize the islanders' commitment to sustainably managing these resources, while at the same time expanding the range of products being marketed.
In 2010, a 15-meter-high tsunami swept away many of the buildings along the shore, killing 10 people. Six are still missing. The islanders' living conditions, already difficult, became much worse. All the materials for rebuilding the houses had to come by boat from the mainland. The inhabitants have not been defeated by this hard blow, however, and Robinson Crusoe Island has become a symbol of post-tsunami reconstruction in Chile.
Now, after lengthy lobbying from islanders, the Chilean Ministry for the Economy, which regulates fishing, has decided to reward their efforts and recognize the unique nature of the island's seafood, introducing a Denomination of Origin for Juan Fernández archipelago spiny lobster (Jasus frontalis) and golden crab (Chaceon chilensis). This is the first time that seafood has received such a denomination in Chile.
"The introduction of the Denomination of Origin is a tribute to the hard work of the fishers, who have been helping to collect biological data for over two years," said Julio Chamorro, the young president of the fishers' association. "For our community, this gesture represents most of all a historic recognition, because we are indebted to the previous generations for their introduction of fishing regulations that allow us to continue our trade today. It was our fathers who agreed on them and applied them. Our participation in Terra Madre and Slow Fish has helped us to understand the importance and value of our work and our resources, and spurred us to start the necessary procedures to request the introduction of the Denomination of Origin."
Some years ago, Chilean law ratified the island fishers' self-imposed rules:
- Only lobsters with a thorax longer than 11.5 cm can be caught (13 cm for crabs)
- Small specimens and pregnant females are immediately thrown back into the sea.
- Only wooden traps are used for catching the lobsters and crabs
- Diving to catch them by hand is forbidden
- Fishing is not allowed between May and September
The fishers have also worked to set up a Marine Protected Area, which will become official in December 2012. Its aim is to provide an institutional framework for the responsible management of this fishing area, while at the same time attracting new resources connected to eco-tourism. The island is home to many other marine and land species unique in the world.
The fishers are not resting on their laurels, and have already started the process for MSC certification. "These are all stops along an important journey, and we have no intention of giving up now. To make sure these efforts have tangible economic benefits for the local fishers, we will continue to promote our products, as well as expanding the range and turning directly to consumers without going through middlemen," explained Julio.
It takes a lot of courage to continue with such an arduous journey on a tiny island, accessible only by sea (a military boat makes the 36-hour journey from the mainland six times a year) or in small tourist planes, when weather conditions allow landing on the miniscule runway.
Discovered by Spanish explorer Juan Fernández as he tried to go around the Humboldt Current on his way south, the Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk, Daniel Defoe's model for Robinson Crusoe, was a castaway on the islands for four years. Later they were used as a hideout for pirates and corsairs. The first inhabitants, political prisoners, settled along the shores during independence (1814), while the real settlers, the ancestors of today's inhabitants, arrived much later.