COLOMBIA REFLECTION: Delicious fried Bocachico--or not

18 September 2007
COLOMBIA REFLECTION: Delicious fried Bocachico--or not

By Suzanna Collerd

Recently I accompanied an event for five days in the mountains where every
meal contained beef. When we returned to a city close to the Magdalena
River, all I wanted to eat was fish, specifically fried Bocachico, the most
common fish in the Middle Magdalena region.

I have been living in Barrancabermeja, the unofficial capital of the region,
for almost three years and I have become accustomed, as most folks from
Barrancabermeja are, to good, cheap fish available all the time. When we got
to the restaurant and I asked for a fried Bocachico, the server said the
restaurant had none. I politely asked for something else, but thought that
in a small city less than a half an hour from the Magdalena River, a
restaurant having no Bocachico was ridiculous.

I learned from the team when I got back that fisher folk from one community
we accompany had fired shots at another community of fisher folk. The one
group accused the other of using illegal fishing nets at the bottom of the
lake and ruining the fishing for all. Those who have been using illegal
fishing nets, however, have not had much luck catching fish, either.

When I began working in Colombia, fishers were completely willing to share
their rivers with folks from outside of the communities, and fish was always
available, even in the slow season.

According to one article I read, in the 1970s, 70,000 tons of fish were
caught in the [Magdalena] river annually. This amount shrunk to 40,000 in
the 1980s, 20,000 in the 1990s and just 8,000 today.*

Despite the argument that illegal fishing techniques have damaged fish
populations in local lakes and smaller waterways that form part of the
Magdalena river system, over-fishing is not a strong enough factor to change
fish production on a regional level. Currently, Barrancabermeja is
importing fish from Argentina because the river is not producing enough to
satisfy demand.

Organizations campaigning for a constitutional right to potable water cite
pollution, especially industrial run-off into the Bogot