María José Hernández is getting ready to start her shift working in the floating cage full of spotted rose snappers that belongs to her cooperative in the estuary of La Ballona’s community.Maria José was born and raised in La Ballona, about 186 km from the capital, Managua. She was left in the care of her grandmother to be raised and had left school by the 8th grade to get married. Now she now works as the Secretary and Spokesperson of the Marcelino Méndez Cooperative.
The cooperative is farming commercial species of fish and shellfish, as opposed to the more traditional methods of fishing in the area. It is supported by the EcoPesca project, funded by the European Union and implemented by Friends of the Earth from Spain, and the LIDER and CODDEFFAGOLF Foundations.
Ensuring that coastal communities are interested in farming commercial species has not been an easy task. The EcoPesca project has created a strategy for the fishing sector to change perceptions around fish farming.
While feeding the fish, Maria José explains how she is contributing to the economic development of both her family and the community. Six months ago, the cooperative obtained legal status, the granting of the five-acre area in which they operate and commercial rights to sell at a better price. With these legal rights, the cooperative feels more empowered. “Now all the authorities, organisations and cooperation agencies give us a prompt response. Without this recognition, it would not be the same," says Maria José.
For Edwin Caballero from the LIDER Foundation and a specialist in sustainable economy, La Ballona is the best place to implement these activities, both due to the environmental conditions and because it ties in with supplying the local tourism economy. “A single cage would generate US $6 000 USD. In a single harvest, they will handle five cages, generating US $30 000 in six months," says Caballero.
These economic initiatives have even gone beyond improving the families’ incomes; The project has partnered with the Ministry of Education and the Municipal Government to stamp out child labour. "We believe that children and adolescents should be in schools, not working in fisheries,” says Mr. Caballero.
Maria José is very happy with the work of the cooperative and all the changes that have occurred with the EU's support.