Mangrove, Shrimp Farm Link Sought in Brazilian Fisherman's Death

PORT ANGELES, Washington, May 25, 2005 (ENS) - An environmental group that works from its base in the United States to safeguard the mangrove forests of the world is calling on the President of Brazil to authorize an investigation into an alleged murder in the city of Salinas das Margaridas in the state of Bahia.


Mangroves of Bahia
With long roots that shelter juvenile fish and protect coastlines from erosion, mangrove trees grow in the intertidal areas and estuary mouths between land and water. The Bahia mangroves are classed as critically endangered, yet they are often cleared to make way for shrimp farms - an action that pits fishermen, who rely on mangroves for their livelihood, against shrimp farmers, who rely on clearing the mangroves for theirs.

The clearing of mangroves and the expansion of the largest shrimp aquaculture company in Salinas das Margaridas gave rise to the violence that troubles Alfredo Quarto, executive director of the Mangrove Action Project based in Port Angeles, Washington.

In a letter sent Monday to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and seven top Brazilian fisheries and human rights officials, Quarto wrote, "I am extremely worried about the news I have just received from members of our network in Bahia concerning the violence perpetrated by employees of the business Maricultura Valença against fishermen and shellfish collectors in the city of Salinas das Margaridas, Bahia."

Quarto explained that the shrimp farm company occupies a large expanse of coastal land in the city and "has caused environmental degradation, as well as preventing access to fishing territories of fishermen and traditional users of this zone."

"I learned that just a few days ago the fisherman, Paulo Marinho de Almeida, 33 years old, was kidnapped and later murdered and that his body was mercilessly thrown into pond no. 7 of the shrimp farm Maricultura Valença. This young fisherman left four children orphans," Quarto wrote.

"In addition," wrote Quarto, "the fishermen of the area are receiving death threats and the hired armed goons associated with Maricultura Valença are circulating through the city creating a climate of terror amongst the fishermen."

Saying that he "cannot accept this horrible situation of violence and lack of respect for human rights," Quarto wrote that he and his friends in Salinas das Margaridas are urging "a federal investigation in the region, since it seems that the local authorities and the police have close ties with Maricultura Valença."

Quarto says the violence is linked with new developments of the shrimp farming business in Salinas das Margaridas.


Salinas das Margaridas is considered a prime tourist center for its seafood, sand and tranquillity, fine food and white sand beaches. (Photo courtesy )
"The company in question is expanding its activities in mangrove areas," Quarto wrote, "accompanied by negative impacts to the ecosystem, which in addition to degrading the environment cause decreases in wild fisheries, ultimately taking away the sustenance of the local communities of fishermen and traditional users of the mangroves."

In December 2004, the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) approved financing in the amount of R$ 19.6 million (US$8 million) to MPE Agrobusiness Participations for the expansion and modernization of shrimp culturing and processing facilities in Salinas da Margarida.

Maricultura Valença of Bahia is part of the Group MPE, headquartered in Rio De Janeiro.

BNDES is a federal public company that is associated with the Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade. The resources provided by the bank will be used for construction within the shrimp culturing facilities, reforms and modernization of laboratories, installation of artificial aerators, increase of support areas, modernization of the electrical network, increase in the capacity of water treatment stations, and other infrastructure work.


Mangroves of Bahia are considered critcally endangered. (Photo credit unknown)
The project is expected to increase the shrimp production by 80 percent - from 3,900 tons per year to 7,000 tons per year - and is supposed to generate an estimated 620 direct and 480 indirect jobs, the bank says.

But Quarto says the increased shrimp production is being achieved at the expense of the local fishermen.

"The fishermen must have the liberty to carry out their profession, which is impossible given that a shrimp farm business has named itself owner of the coast and through violence intends to take over the entire zone," Quarto wrote to President Lula.

Quarto is also asking the government to revise Maricultura Valença's license "to reduce the conflicts" and "to punish the business for the mangrove devastation" and prohibit future licenses for this socially and ecologically harmful activity.

Co-founder and executive director of the 13 year old Mangrove Action Project, Quarto was a 1970 graduate of Purdue University in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, He worked for four years for the Boeing Company as a jet propulsion systems analyst before leaving Boeing to live in Japan and work on environmental issues with Greenpeace.Since 1977, he has been an activist and an organizer, working on domestic and international issues involving both environment and human rights.

The Mangrove Action Project is affiliated with the Earth Island Institute, based in San Francisco, California.

Convinced that healthy mangrove forests are key to a healthy marine ecology, Quarto has given talks about mangroves at the United Nations headquarters in New York, as well as before scientific committees addressing threats to mangrove forests.