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Barra Sarstún Fisherfolk Recover after Fire

The fire in Barra Sarstún destroyed a new restaurant and damaged a fish processing facility

A fire in Barra Sarstún, Guatemala, has destroyed a new restaurant that local fisherfolk had been building in order to attract ecotourism to the area. As part of its Cross-Border Alliance for Healthy Fisheries project, EcoLogic has been working with a community organization of fisherfolk to construct the restaurant. This work was sponsored by Cell Signaling Technology, which has supported EcoLogic since 2009. In response to the fire, Cell Signaling Technology doubled a recent grant award to Ecologic which will be used to support recovery efforts.

The community of Barra Sarstún is located on the south bank of the Sarstún river in Guatemala, bordering Belize. Most people here rely on fish for sustenance and income, and a recent decline in local fish populations has brought the sustainability of their livelihoods into question. The committee of local fisherfolk was formed in 2008 to protect fish resources and serve the community’s interests. Since its founding, the committee has grown to include more than 500 members. The committee is currently headed by a fisherman from Barra Sarstún named Mario Francisco Til. EcoLogic’s coordinator for the binational project, Cleopatra Mendez, has worked with this group for many years to organize workshops in sustainable fisheries management and facilitate learning exchanges between Barra Sarstún and other small fishing communities.

To support its members financially, the committee coordinates cooperative trade. As a cooperative, they are able to market their harvests of róbalo (bass) and camarón (shrimp) to buyers in Livingston, the nearest coastal Guatemalan city, where they are able to sell their catch for more money. The committee also designates and patrols fish refuge areas, in which fishing is prohibited during certain seasons while populations replenish. They have observed a positive difference in fish populations since these refuges were organized.

Given new restrictions on fishing and the income it provides, many are looking for alternative ways to generate revenue. The committee of fisherfolk has been working to bring money to the community by encouraging “turismo comunitario”: community-based tourism as a means to secure a sustainable source of local revenue. Their first initiative to this end was to build a restaurant. EcoLogic has worked with local fisherfolk throughout the construction process. The fire represents a significant setback for this project. However, the community-based assets that enabled the restaurant’s construction in the first place—namely, the fisherfolk committee and its numerous members—remain intact. Moving forward, the committee will determine how it can move forward from this disaster. Technical support from EcoLogic and funding from Cell Signaling Technology will help the committee as they continue to pursue their goal of creating a sustainable eco-tourism infrastructure that attracts visitors and can cater to their needs.

After the restaurant, the committee had hoped to construct cabins for tourist lodgings so that people can stay in the community for an extended period of time. These plans may have to be delayed while the committee contends with the damage caused by the fire, and weighs different options for recovery. Eco-tourism remains a top priority for the committee, and local fisherfolk will continue to pursue their goal of diversifying Barra Sarstún’s sources of income, particularity as income from fishing become less reliable. 

Members of the Barra Sarstun community watch the fire from boats

Members of the Barra Sarstun community watch the fire from boats

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