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Casting Nets at Presa Allende

Juio Valdez

Ultimo saldo de los charales

Señor Vargas

Lancha la Pingüina

Pescadores en la presa Allende

By Jesús Aguado

The biggest fish ever caught by fishermen in the turbid waters of the Ignacio Allende Dam weighed 15 kilos. The smallest are charales (chirostoma, a fish of 6 to 12 centimeters long).

At the end of 1960, the inhabitants from several communities who occupied the current area that is now flooded by millions of cubic meters of water—from rainfall and drainage—knew that they had to take whatever they could and relocate their houses to higher and safer land. After the relocation, new community names emerged: Flores de Begoña, Pantoja, Don Diego, Begoña, Presa Allende, and San Marcos, among others. Their previous activity was agriculture. What would they do now? Soon they found the answer: They started making red bricks and fishing.

Presa Ignacio Allende

Officially, the dam was inaugurated in January 1969, during Gustavo Díaz Ordaz’s term as president of Mexico. Then, the water was to irrigate 10,125 hectares in the lower part of the state. The construction cost 27,100,000 pesos. Several communities were once in the current reservoir basin where there were several communities. The old chapel, sunk near the Flores embarcadero, is proof of it that is easy to see. There is also an old spillway and a parapet. They are visible in the Los Frailes area, and other remainders are visible from other communities. The rail tracks were also relocated at the end of 1980 because they were being flooded. A campground, then called KOA, later disappeared, although it is unknown if the disappearance had to do with the water.

Ten years after the dam inauguration, the National Commission of Water announced that there was a project to increase the height of the parapet 7.5 meters. The needed budget was close to 30 million pesos. However, the project never happened.

Among Bricks, Tumbos, and Fish

Pantoja is one of the communities that emerged from the water. It has close to 1,000 residents. The inhabitants survive due to their production of red brick (ladrillo or tabique). The production of this material for construction is nothing new in the area. According to brick maker don Roberto Vidal, they have produced bricks in Pantoja since 1968, when they were relocated due to the construction of the Allende Dam in the old community where his dad and grandfather had performed the same activity.

When a visitor arrives at the entrance to Pantoja on the road to Celaya, it is easy to see the chimneys of the kilns. Vidal noted that there are more than 30 people in the community who support and increase the economy of the zone. At each kiln there are from 20 to 25 employees with an average salary of 1,500 pesos per week. While the employees were moving raw pieces to the kiln, Vidal told us that they can sell up to 35,000 bricks weekly (1,800 pesos for every thousand pieces).

There is a contrast to Pantoja nearby. Following the road, just a street divides it from Flores de Begoña, where the activity is in the water. The Union of Fishermen from Pantoja is actually from Flores. There are 50 members, all of whom have their own boats to boast the economy of the area.

When we arrived at the embarcadero, we also found contrasts. There were old boats made of wood and brand new fiberglass boats, each with its own name: The Dove, The Lazy One, The Titanic, The Boat, and The Drunk.

There were three fishermen at the time Atención visited. The youngest was Julio Valdez. (Almost all the families have Valdez as their surname in Pantoja and Flores.) Julio gave us a ride in his boat. While he was rowing, he said that he started helping his parents to fish 25 years ago.

In his first days of working, Julio could not use a helper because of the weight of his old wooden boat. Now he is benefiting from a lighter fiberglass boat. At 5am he wakes up and, without checking the weather, he embarks on his way to the other side of the water, where he left his tumbos (fish nets) the day before. The nets are 100 meters long and 3 meters high.

If he has good weather, he starts pulling out his nets after an hour of rowing. On a good day, he can catch up to 60 kilos of tilapia, 30 kilos on a medium day, and seven on a very bad day. “Today I caught just 10 kilos,” he said. Each kilo is sold for 30–40 pesos to a buyer who comes every weekend.

Julio named his boat La Borracha (The Drunk) because once he and his friends put a cooler on it and took a trip on the water. The Borracha is lighter, and he feels more comfortable rowing in it. He just hopes not to be hit by a tree trunk dragged to the dam by the Laja River because he doesn’t know if the fiberglass can resist the collision.

When we went to the banks after the ride, we saw some plastic bottles floating and asked if those were other nets. Julio said “No. There are nets down there with live fish. We keep them three meters under water to keep them fresh and alive until a buyer arrives. The bottles are there to identify where the bags are.”

Maximino Valdez was in the group. He was 10 years old when the reservoir was flooded. “I remember that we had no time for anything. We just got whatever we could, and we came to a safer area,” he said. He also remembers that he started fishing on the edges with no nets—just with hooks—and no boat. Later he bought his own.

The State Secretariat of Agricultural and Rural Development, along with the local administration, provided 14 new boats to people from the community. The value, according to Julio, is 24 thousand pesos. “We [each] had to pay just six thousand pesos,” he said. In the Mercado Libre, the price of similar boats goes from 24–35 thousand pesos.

On the Other Side

Monday through Friday at 5am, don Jorge Vargas and his helper leave the community of Flores de Begoña to board their hand-built wooden boat and traverse two kilometers of the presa toward the community of Don Juan. Once there, they pull in their 100-meter net to recover the charales, caught in the net the day before. The fish are later dried and sold to a client from Yuriria, Guanajuato. It was around 2pm when this fisherman finished taking out his nets. His helper paddled the boat to the shore of the dam, and the work of harvesting their catch began. They laid out a 50-square-meter canvas and one fisherman took his place across from the other on either side. They pulled the net—divided into 10-meter sections—from the wooden boat and started shaking it. The nearly dead fish fell out onto the canvas. The fishermen shook the net for almost one hour, until the last charal fell. When they finished, don Jorge explained that this is a low season for fishing for this kind of fish. They get only 25 kilos, but during the rainy season they can get more than 400 kilos in one day.

“There are colleagues that use a trawler, and they can get more than a ton of all kinds of fish a day, but it all depends on the season,” he said.

Vargas has 20 years of experience fishing and has seen all sorts of fish come out of the presa. The biggest the fishermen have caught was 1.5 meters long and weighed more than 15 kilos. Vargas said that he does not know where those fish are sold. “Some say that they are sold in Wal-Mart, but the truth is that we do not know,” he remarked. He is certain that the fish is healthy and fit for human consumption because his family and residents of the nearby communities eat it and no one has become ill from it.

Previously, Dr. Martín Milán López, head of the Sanitation Jurisdiction in San Miguel de Allende, said that they do not have information on where this fish is sold. He also remarked that they have not had any reports of diseases caused by the consumption of the product of the presa. If there were one report, they would conduct studies immediately.

On October 10, the State Secretariat of Agricultural and Rural Development released 60, 000 fish in the waters of the Allende Dam; 50,000 tilapias and 10,000 catfish. They will be ready for fishing in four months. The Secretariat also announced that 20 more wooden boats will be replaced for new ones.


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