Artisan Fishing–Balneário Camboriú – Brazil

by Roberta Kepper

Balneário Camboriú is a coastal city located in the north of Santa Catarina, one of the southern states of Brazil. It is a major beach resort with its steep hills dropping down to the sea.

For most of the year enormous shoals of mullets live off the coast of Rio Grande do Sul, but in the winter months of May, June and July they migrate north to Santa Catarina in search of warmer water and suitable spawning grounds. Tainha (pronounced tah-ee-nya) is the Brazilian Portuguese name for the fish known in English as the mullet. The artisan fishing of the huge shoals of tainha is one of the most traditional events in Balneário Camboriú and along the north Santa Catarina coast. It’s an activity that involves the community and practically every sector of the fishing economy. It is really interesting to see a city surrounded by skyscrapers keeping part of the southern culture history, following tradition that has been maintained since the 18th century.

The fishermen go to the beach to wait for the call from a sentinel or “spotter” perched on a lookout or a high cliff with binoculars and a two-way radio, alerting of an approaching shoals of mullet. As soon as they receive the signal, the entire community is quickly set into motion for the task at hand. This is when the fishermen get the boats located by the beach and paddle offshore as far as they can, each holding an end of a 500 meter fishing net. They then paddle back to shore while holding the line to haul in the fish. The nets are large to allow the young tainha to escape, while the adults are kept in great numbers into the net.

The rest of the fishermen, their families and members of the community who are waiting on the beach grab the net and begin to drag in the catch. Sometimes, if there aren’t enough people to pull the net, the fishermen tie it around their waist in order to make it easier to take it out of the water. Once the net is out, the fish that has been caught is then divided among everyone who took part in the activity, with the spotter, the owner of the boat and the fishermen who towed in the net receiving extra fish for their efforts and taking the best catches to the local fish market for some well deserved profit.

The Fish market (Mercado Público in Portuguese); is a well-known tourist spot and hub of the fish retail business in Balneário Camboriú.  Fresh fish arrives on a daily basis, especially during the tainha season. The fish are carefully selected by the beach and taken to the market in separate boxes in order to know the fishermen that have actually caught them. The market is a vibrant place where it is possible to buy fresh seafood and local ingredients such as herbs, veggies and fruits. It is a great spot to enjoy an afternoon nibbling freshly made seafood and locally produced wines.

As an insight into the traditional lifestyles that still form a big part of Balneário Camboriú life, a trip to see the daily tainha catch arrive is extremely worthwhile. A helping hand may also result in you being one of the many people walking the streets of Balneário carrying a large fish as thank you for your help!