Dispatch: In a city of 10 million, a community of traditional fishers faces big changes | Oceana

Urban fishers in Lima target small, coastal species like mullet and sea snails.

Photo Credit: Allison Guy / Oceana

In Lima, Peru’s capital, the beach is an artificial place. Cars zip along a highway between the city’s seaside cliffs and the strand. Miles of shoreline, punctuated with rock barriers to stave off erosion, are lined with surf schools, restaurants and pricey clubs. But in Chorillos, a neighborhood in the south of Lima, an urban fishing community has kept to its roots.  

Here, artisanal fishers cart mackerel-packed crates down the dock. Divers clad in well-worn wetsuits emerge sopping from the water, hauling mesh bags of sea snails. Buyers for Lima’s many Chinese-Peruvian, or “chifa,” restaurants peruse the small market, where hopeful stray dogs beg for scraps. 

About 300 artisanal fishers ply the waters off Chorillos. Some target small coastal fish like mullet and the 5-inch-long Peruvian silverside. Others capture crabs in traps, or dive to dig up razor clams. Most come from families that have been fishing for generations.

During the weekends, locals pour into Chorillos to sunbathe on the strip of beach, and eat at ceviche stalls run by fishermen’s families. They never lack for customers in this seafood-crazy city. Each year, Lima’s citizens eat more seafood than all Australians combined.

But as in any big city, competition for space is intense. Butting into Chorillos’ waters is a pier belonging to a private marina, a see-and-be-seen spot for Lima’s wealthy elite. Just south of the marina is another exclusive beach club. These fancy developments upset water currents and alter the coast’s topography, fishermen say. The fishing spots they’ve relied on for years have changed, or no longer exist.  

Gentrification is not unique to Chorillos, of course. But it’s perhaps more ironic here. After all, the fish served in the private clubs might have come from the very fishers they’re crowding out.