“At night the sea is sad, the silence and the darkness are overwhelming and the waves are not seen, but when they come they are felt, and the boat is a blender, but there is no time to get dizzy and feel bad, There is no way to stop it. A storm in the sea is scary. ” This is not said by an inexperienced sailor but by Gaizka, a Basque with 36 years in the water.
THE BASQUE FISHERMEN: WORKING HOURS
He began at age 15, inheriting the job of his father. Today, at 51, 4 years away from retirement (seafarers retire 10 years before), he feels pain throughout his body and can not wait to give it a well-deserved rest. And even today, he continues to face the fear of the nights at sea. Although according to him, “now everything has changed. Technology allows us to go fishing with a trip plan to avoid storms (although we can not always do it).
But it was hard before that. “
But the hardness of their work is still represented in the long working hours and in the extreme physical conditions to which they sometimes have to contend. They can not afford to be sick because there were many cases of “smart guys” that said to be in bed and in fact they were not, but as they divided the payment into equal parts, they let the hard work be done by the others.
The fishing season begins in February with the fishing of the mackerel from the coast of Bermeo, and extends until the month of April, when Gaizka and all his companions of the ship Maria Digna Dos of Santander, “change work”, as he explains, and begin fishing for the tuna, offshore, for 7 months, in which they spend between 15 and 20 days per month on the high seas and visit the Galician coast.
Those days are eternal for the sailors, and there´s a reason: the working days are 18 hours straight, without stopping. They wake up at 5.30 in the morning and fish until 12.30 at night, when they finally go to sleep those six precious hours, which become five as they must take turns for the night watch of one hour each (they are six crew members). Luck has whoever gets the first or last hour of the guard because if you get the middle shift, they wake you up from your sleep and then you have to reconcile it quickly. “Why the guard? Because in the place where we are there can be between 30 and 40 boats, and it would not be good to crash”, Gaizka says.
THE FISHING LIMITS
For 36 years he has got on a boat, into the sea and fish. There were times, during the year and outside of the tuna season, when the days began earlier for two main reasons: first, the ports were crowded with boats, side by side (“You could cross from side to side of the port Passing over the boats”, recalls Gaizka), so if you were late you had to wait hours for your turn to take the fish off the boat; Secondly, the sailors did not have a salary (this is still the same as today), but they gained in equal parts for what they fished. Therefore, the sooner they started, the more they could fish, and therefore, the more they would charge. There were no limits to the fishing quota. There were days in which they brought between 8 thousand and 10 thousand kilos of fish.
But in recent years, in addition to drastically reducing the number of fishing vessels and sailors, a limit was applied to the fishing quota per season. Once that season quota is reached, which in the case of Gaizka is 106 tons, they must moor the boat and wait until the beginning of the next season, in February of the following year. Therefore the days begin later and at most, they fish 3 thousand kilos of fish per day. The big problem occurs when that quota is reached before November. I ask Gaizka why because I could not understand what the inconvenience would be.
“When we finish the quota, we automatically stop working until the following season, but in those months without a job, we live off the unemployment quota, and it only covers three months of payment; if we finish in October, as was the case last year, we have to live the whole month of our savings without any salary “, he says.
THE BASQUE FISHING PORTS
The tourists walk through the streets of Bermeo and walk through its port, take photographs, enjoy the sea breeze, eat some pintxos at a bar, but they never stop to think about these sailors, who with their sore bodies move a millionaire market; But for the others. And it is a shame since these fishing villages were made by the fishermen. Those men who had no way of planning a journey embarked on wooden ships and surrendered to the good fortune of God.
I stop in their wrinkled faces and try to imagine what that first wave would feel when it hit the boat, predicting a storm in the darkness of the night. And I’d rather stop. The Basque coast is brave. I do not even want to think how it will be out in the open sea.
I shake hands with Gaizka and say goodbye. He tells me that tomorrow they will not come to work since the sale price is very low and they do not consider it fair. Before he leaves, he asks me a question that amazes me and makes me think of how the same thing can be seen as something dark and sad, or as the ideal of paradise: “Since you are from Argentina, could you tell me: Is there any nice beach where I can go to relax looking at the sea? “
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