SÃO PAULO – Economic mega-projects on Brazil’s coast and near rivers have been threatening the territories and the activities of artisanal fishing communities all over the country, according to the Bishops’ Conference’s Fishermen’s Pastoral Council (known as CPP in Portuguese).

(Credit: Agência Brasil.)

In recent years, dozens of fishing groups have been feeling the impact in areas they have traditionally occupied from large-scale mining, oil exploitation, wind and solar power generation, agribusiness, tourism initiatives, ports and waterways.

“Most of such projects impose restrictions on the communities’ access to their fishing grounds, raising their operational costs and the time they spend in their journeys,” explained Francisco Nonato, CPP’s executive secretary.

Since the end of 2022, Nonato and his colleagues have been paying special attention to the announcements made by businessmen and authorities regarding plans involving the so-called “blue economy,” which is connected to the sea environment.

“Great corporations are preparing to exploit minerals under the seabed, to expand marine oil drilling, and so on. Some of those projects have already begun, and in many cases, the artisanal fishermen are put aside,” he told Crux.

Even endeavors that are good for the environment, such as the production of clean energy, are causing trouble for fishing communities, Nonato said.

“Many wind and solar facilities are being implanted on the coast of the Northeastern part of the country with no concern with those groups. Their territories are invaded, and they end up impeded to keep fishing where they used to,” he said.

That is the case Maranhão state, explained CPP pastoral agent Gilberto Lima.

“We are not against wind power, but the way those [facilities] are being implemented is negative. Fishermen are being expelled from their lands,” he told Crux.

Lima affirmed that many times no studies are previously conducted about the social impact of such power plants, and the communities are often deceived when the companies in charge announce their plans.

“When they arrive, they promise they will build roads and schools and that people will be hired to work at the plant. After the implementation, they just disappear,” he described.

One such project is currently being implanted in a city in the state and may provoke the displacement of 100 families, according to Lima.

Energy plants may also result in the destruction of mangroves, which are fundamental places for the reproduction of several fish species, Nonato added. Those biomes are also being affected by shrimp farming on the coast and by tourism and real estate developments.

Fishing communities demonstrated April 13 in front of Bahia State’s environmental agency in Brazil against a real estate development. (Credit: Brazilian bishops’ conference.)

Earlier this month, a group of fishermen protested in front of Bahia state’s environmental agency against a large real estate project on Boipeba island.

The endeavor has obtained some of the necessary licenses from the authorities, despite the fact that local communities have not been consulted about it. The territory pertains to the government and will be partially conceded to the real estate developers.

The demonstrators argue that they will be totally surrounded by the upper-class project, losing their territory and fishing grounds.

Riverside fishing communities are facing the same challenges, explained Josana Pinto da Costa, a national leader of the Artisanal Fishermen’s Movement (known as MPP in Portuguese).

“Powerful companies have been pushing for the construction of ports and the creation of waterways without considering the fishing communities’ needs,” she told Crux.

In the Western part of Pará state, in the Amazon, fishermen have been complaining about the illegal building of several ports on the margins of Tapajós river.

“They are forbidden to unload at the spots where they have always sold their fish. It is common for them to receive threats. Many of them are scared and are avoiding to take part in fishermen’s assemblies,” da Costa said.

Large soy exporters and mining companies want to take control of the river in order to ship their products to the coast with lower costs.

“We are surrounded by those strong economic groups, which managed to corrupt the authorities,” she declared.

Many rivers in the Amazon and other biomes are contaminated with heavy metals used in mining operations, something that directly impacts the fishermen.

“There are many cases of people contaminated with mercury,” da Costa said.

Near farms, the rivers receive residues of pesticides, which also contaminate the fish and at times reduce their stocks, Gilberto Lima affirmed.

“Some communities end up giving up of getting into the water to work,” he lamented.

Da Costa said that many fishermen’s movements have been united in denouncing such aggressions, including Catholic groups.

“After the Amazon synod, we noticed that many dioceses and parishes have understood the importance of protecting our common house,” she said. But the message of Laudato si’ still has to reach the hearts of part of the churchgoers – and even of members of the clergy, she added.

Nonato said that the CPP, along with the MPP and other organizations, has proposed a bill with the intention of promoting the regularization of all fishing communities’ territories in the country. It is currently awaiting analysis in Congress.

“We have been following Pope Francis’s advice regarding the need to build broad alliances to defend the common house,” he concluded.