I just spent the last 15 minutes writing down things I want to say to the Peruvians when we’re out doing fishing surveys; now I just need to find someone to do the translations. The last formal Spanish class I had was ~15 years ago, and my pre-trip-prep would have been better spent brushing up on a few key infinitives and nouns. So far I've been getting by using rudimentary vocabulary and a lot of hand gestures, but it's truly sad.
|Looks like I'm one of the biologists...|
My counterpart on the expedition is an adorable guy named Pool who (so far) has magically known all of the fish species we've been finding in our nets each day. For the most part, the most common catch has been two different piranha species, some big enough to chomp off a finger even if you happen to be wearing leather gloves. Those teeth are No Joke, and while I've been getting a bit bolder in my handling of them, it might be considered a miracle if I make it to summer's end with all my digits.
|Red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri); om nom nom...|
Depending on which resource you check, there might be as many as EIGHT THOUSAND species of fish in the Amazon basin, 1000 of which are supposedly found in Peru. So I look on with curiosity (and a little fear) every time the net comes in.
|A pretty good haul; boquichico, carachama, and piranhas, oh my!|
There really isn't much to the science of what we’re doing here, and my role might be better described as “tour-guide/camp counselor with marginal background knowledge” than “fish biologist.” Our surveys are meant to replicate traditional fishing methods of the Cocoma Indians who live in the reserve, and the data we collect inform quotas for the subsistence fishery.
|There's also a fair amount of sitting and crossword puzzling happening, depending on the day.|
So each morning and afternoon, I pack up a load of kiddos onto the boat (mostly middle school-ers and college kids), force them to wear a flotation device, and take off for a site upriver. One of our trusty Peruvian guides (usually Ormenio or Euclides) sets the gillnets, and in the meantime, we all “fish” from the boat (read: dangle a hunk of bait from a line tied to a stick) and listen to music (courtesy of Pool's cell phone; he's especially fond of THIS SONG, which we listen to often...on repeat...which (it turns out) is a great way to learn Spanish AND go a little crazy at the same time).
As the British statistician on board put it, fishing here is a bit like that magnet fishing game we all had growing up where you dangle the fishing rod into plastic fish mouths that spin in a circle. You know the one...
sort of exactly like that.
I bait hooks, free lines from tree branches and roots, and try to appear sympathetic when kids complain about the heat and biting flies. So basically, I’m everyone’s dad on their first fishing trip. After an hour, we go collect the net and record fish ID’s and take measurements to get an idea of what, how many, and how big some of these fishes are.
I could get used to this life...