Angélica Maria Méndez Parham is the co-founder and current Manager of the Guatemalan Caribbean and Izabal Lake Artisanal Fishers Networks. She has been instrumental in the creation of strategic alliances among fishing organizations all along the coast of Guatemala. A longtime spokesperson for the protection of coastal and marine resources and the environment, Angélica is from the town of Livingston on the coast of Guatemala. In 2010, Angélica was honored with the Gladding Memorial Award by the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute.
I started fishing for crabs at the age of seven to contribute to the family economy. My sister and two brothers fished together but I always went by myself. When I got married at the age of 18, I started fishing with my husband to support our family. We would fish for shrimp using small trawling nets called changos.
I helped get fishing organizations together from Barra Sarstún to Punta de Manabique to form the Guatemalan Caribbean and Izabal Lake Artisanal Fishers Networks. Now we have a voice.
I have been the leader of the Livingston Artisanal Fishermen organization since 2004. We are promoting a no take season and have initiated a dialog with the authorities. But more is needed to strengthen surveillance and enforcement. The problem is that the fishing authorities don’t have any financial resources.
We are also trying to get funds for alternative projects so that we can reduce pressure on the resources. We are working on aquaculture projects and have opened a restaurant named El Manglar in Cayo Quemado in Rio Dulce.
We started with almost no participation from women in the fishers’ network, but now we are playing a very important role in building awareness about the conservation of resources. Many times, we are more involved than the men.
Of course, the fishing stock has decreased a lot. Twenty years ago there were more fish and bigger fish. Not only is the fisher population growing, but many of the fishers are not aware of the damage they are doing.
These communities have so many needs, but they also have many people who are willing to make a difference. I believe it is time for the fishers to give something back to the sea because sea has provided us with food for so many years. But we need support.