A man sits in the bow of a small boat with fishing nets

The Right Lure

Proving economic opportunity and conservation can coexist

A narrow nighttime street, lighted by a single street light

Well before the sun rises, Dominican fisherman Juan Calcaño leaves his home in Sánchez for the short walk to the Samaná Bay. Yamará, as everyone calls him, actually started preparing for his work day the evening before.

He and mate José Alberto join long bamboo sticks, rope and fishing nets – the suripera – in an intricate pattern in the boat they will cast off the next day. It takes a while to get it just right, but it’s worth it – the suripera is safer for the fish and the bay.

A man reaches to the ceiling of a building

‘Like a Butterfly’

“We fish with the suripera because it’s a net that doesn’t cause damages,” Yamará says. “Everything the suripera picks up is alive. It doesn’t pick up little fish, only live shrimp.”

Once unfurled, the poles and nets strung together look like a butterfly ready to take flight. When the boat reaches a good fishing spot, Yamará and José lower the fishing nets into the bay in search of shrimp and other fish.

A man holding a long bamboo pole
Two men adjust nets and lines on a fishing boat
Silhouette of a man holding onto a pole with rope coming out from the sides of the pole

Fish are Disappearing

For years, the shrimp and other fish that had once been plentiful have been disappearing. Overfishing and harmful fishing practices are emptying the bay and threatening the livelihoods of fisherfolk in the community.

A particularly harmful fishing technique nicknamed the “blender” churns up fish en mass and harms the vital coral reefs.

A close up of a man's hands repairing fishing nets
A man stands among fishing boats and nets along the shore
Two men pose for the camera

José Alberto tells Yamará stories of the old days when shrimp and fish were plentiful. “There was everything,” Yamará says. “I even hear the older people say that they would take a palm leaf and drag it and they would catch shrimp and fish that way. But you don’t see that anymore with all the damage the bay has suffered.”

Two men on a fishing boat

To Save the Bay

USAID and other partners, including the U.S. Forest Service, support several initiatives to protect the bay and revive the livelihoods of the more than 3,000 fishers. That includes improved fishing nets and efforts to grow new coral to replace the decimated coral reefs.

Area fishers are slowly accepting this new approach. Yamará is confident the new practices will gain wider acceptance. He and about 50 others have formed the San Lorenzo Bay Cooperative to organize the sale of their catch, to protect the bay and much more.

A man holds a freshly-caught shrimp in his hands
Six freshly-caught shrimp
A man stands on the bow of a boat with a fishing net

Ecotourism Rising

They are expanding their activities from fishing to becoming professional tour guides, leading visitors around their breathtaking home – from birdwatching to kayaying to exploring the mangroves and caves that dot the community. These additional activities are increasing their incomes as well.

Overhead shot of kayaks on a river
Birds in trees
Kayaks on a river
Overhead of water and land with thick green forest

For the Next Generation

Fishing was the first job Yamará learned to do from his father, who supported his family through fishing. Yamará’s children – and future generations – will need to protect that heritage and then do more.

A man works with fishing nets on a boat

“If I use any other nets that are harmful, I’m hurting myself because I won’t be able to survive, my kids won’t be able to survive,” he says. “I think about my kids, about the youth that come after me. I do care, that’s why I use the suripera, because it’s safe.”

About This Story

About 60 percent of the Caribbean’s living coral has been lost over the past 30 years, and today three-fourths of the coral reefs are either degraded or threatened. These underwater structures are the homes, and nurseries, for a variety of sea life. Their loss contributes to economic decline for communities that depend on the income that fishing brings.

USAID is working with countries throughout the Caribbean to conserve marine and coastal biodiversity, and to restore livelihoods for the people who call the region home. This project addresses harmful fishing practices with new techniques. USAID also supports coral nurseries so reefs can be restored and fish can repopulate the waterways.

The Agency and its partners are encouraging community-led ecotourism to share the region’s natural wonders with visitors. As many as 3,000 fishers rely on Samaná Bay for their livelihoods. USAID’s assistance is helping rehabilitate an important resource for this community – and beyond.

Photos and video by Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID