Living at the edge of water by Perla Copernik

Living at the edge of water is a never-ending project that I started more than 30 years ago. The project, born of my initial fascination with boats, fishermen and fishing villages gradually evolved into a documentary of this ancient way of life that dates back 10,000 years approximately. During those times, oceans, lakes and rivers were considered “hunting areas” where humans caught fish and other food resources to survive.

Today not much has changed; fisheries are still a vital source of livelihood and sustainable development, especially in coastal areas with little rainfall, degradable land, and drought conditions. For these communities, fish is not only the cheapest and most substantial source of animal protein available, but fisheries are also a major area of employment and income.

It all begun with this boat. The intersection of the boat's lines with what seemed an old deck intrigued me.

There are boats...

From left to right (clockwise): Brazil, Chile, Newfoundland, Israel and Jamaica

Artisanal fishing is probably one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. Fatality and injury rates are extremely high, compared to other professions. Accidents often result from inadequately equipped fishermen choosing to work further away from the shore because their traditional fishing grounds have been depleted.

A very rainy day in São Fracisco do Sul, Santa Catarina Brazil

Large-scale industrial and non-selective over-fishing is not only destroying our planet's water sources and all the ecosystems that depend on it, but it is also contributing to the progressive impoverishment and consequent starvation of these communities.

Sensintra, Portugal

And there are boats, like the ones below, which are considered unhealthy for the oceans

From lef to right (Clockwise): Israel, Ireland, Mexico, Newfoundland, And Sicily
And fishermen need much more than just boats...

Other tools of the trade include:

Top left: Squid reeling machine; top right: lobster traps; middle left: crab fishing trap; middle right: ropes; bottom: nets and ropes

The Fishermen

Lake Kinneret, Galilee

From the simplicity of boats and nets...

Clockwise from the top left: Porto Palos Di Capo Passero, Sicily; Sāo Francisco do Sul, Brazil; Caleta de Horcón, Chile; Aracaju, Brazil; Caleta de Horcón, Chile; Howth, Ireland

To the complexities of trawlers and traps

Clockwise from the top left: Colony of Avalon, Newfoundland; top right and center: Porto Palo di Capo Passero, Sicily ; Bay Bulls, Newfoundland; Puerto Juarez, Mexico;

Preparing the product for sale in the market

(Left: Caleta de Horcón, Chile. Right: Alligator Alley, Jamaica)

Catch or bycatch?

Bottom trawlers destroy 4 to 16 pounds of marine life for every fish they catch. The victims of this destruction (bycatch) include more often than not, sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, octopi, and any other creature that gets caught in the path of destruction.

The catch of the day. Top right and left: Alligator Alley, Jamaica; bottom right: Champney's West; bottom left: Caleta de Horcón, Chile

Life in the villages

Howth, Ireland
Kids playing with miniature replicas of their fathers' boats. Aracaju, Brazil
Top: Waiting for dad to come back home; bottom right: catching up; bottom left: fishing with daddy. São Francisco do Sul, Brazil
Left: Smiling for the camera, Alligator Alley, Jamaica; right: picnic on the beach, Puerto Morelos, Mexico

There is always a dog!

“Of all the animals, surely the dog is the only one that really shares our life, helps in our work, and has a place in our recreation. It is the only one that becomes so fond of us that sometimes it cannot go on living after its master dies” - Fernand Mercy

Howth, Ireland

It was not until a couple of years ago when I was going over all the materials I had gathered for a potential book, that I realized that in all the places I photographed there was at least one dog as an active member of the community. Either wandering around, watching the boats, accompanying people, playing or just sleeping on the beach, there is always a dog. How amazingly loyal creatures, dogs are…

Top left: Caleta de Horcón, Chile; top center: Colony of Avalon, Newfoundland; top right: Port Royal, Jamaica; middle right: Alligator Alley, Jamaica; middle left: Porto Palo di Capo Passero; bottom right: Puerto Juarez, Mexico; bottom left: São Francisco do Sul, Brazil


Newfoundland is probably the best model of the desolation that centuries of overfishing can have on the livelihood of entire towns and villages. Unfortunately the development of more advanced and aggressive fishing technologies in the twentieth century, aggravated an already desperate situation. At the beginning of the 90's, the region's cod population had been basically wiped out.

Petty Harbour, Newfoundland

In 1992, as a result of the complete collapse of the region's fisheries, the Canadian federal government imposed a moratorium on the commercial Northern cod fishery, effectively ending a 500-year-old industry. The impact on rural Newfoundland and Labrador was devastating. Fish plants closed, boats remained docked, more than 30,000 people were suddenly out of work, and hundreds of villages became ghost towns.

Champney's West, Newfoundland

That ban was supposed to last two years; but more than two decades later, it’s still in place. And although the cod population is slowly rebounding, area scientists say, it’s going to be a long time before commercial cod fishing returns to Newfoundland. In the meantime, shrimp and snow crab have become the two most important harvested species in the region, replacing cod as the economic engine of the fishery.

Let's hope our oceans don't end like this abandoned boat, completely destroyed and impossible to repair.

Black River, Jamaica

More than a call to action, this essay is intended to help us reflect on how much we depend on this planet's health for our survival. We have been treating our planet in the same way bottom-trawler boats operate in our oceans, not only catching much more than the marine life they want to capture but also destroying everything in their path, decimating complete ecosystems with total disregard of the consequences future generations will have to face because of our actions.

Abandoned and forgotten...

Top: Black River, Jamaica; bottom left: Aracaju, Brazil; bottom right: Akko, Israel

Everything and everyone on Earth is linked in one way or another. All living organisms share the same elements that form our different DNAs. And the truth is, this planet can and will survive without us (humankind), but humans cannot survive without the resources a healthy planet provides us.

Created By
Perla Copernik


Perla Copernik owns all copyrights

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