A risky livelihood

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Eduardo Fernández

A Risky Livelihood:
The Commercial Diving Fishery of the Gulf of California


Commercial diving fishers participate in what has been demonstrated to be an extremely dangerous occupation. In a daily exchange of risk for livelihood, thousands of divers worldwide do their work knowing that they run the risk of serious injury, illness, or death whileperforming their tasks. Still, the hazards are greater under particular circumstances, which differ according to the type of species being harvested, the fishing methods and technology used, the location of fishing grounds, and the socioeconomic and political context in which diving takes place, among others.
Humans have practiced underwater fishing since ancient times but its practice usingcompressed air is a relatively recent phenomenon, particularly in Third World countries. Compressed air has allowed for substantial increases in catch, bringing short-term benefits to fishers and entrepreneurs. But the human, ecological, and economic cost of indiscriminate use of this technology has been extremely high. It has been the cause of considerable ecological damage in many parts of the globe andcaused an alarming number of casualties and permanent disabilities among the diving fishermen population of the Third World. Diving accidents occur when divers go down too often or too deep and/or stay down too long in pursuit of pearl shell, aquarium fish, lobsters, or live reef food fish. The frequency of such accidents is said by divers to be increasing as they find themselves forced to godeeper and stay down longer after having depleted stocks in shallower waters.
This paper explores the relationship that exists between the risks of diving and the socioeconomic, cultural, and political context in which this particular fishery takes place in Bahia de Kino, a fishing community of the Midriff Region of the Gulf of California.

Theoretical Background
The initial approach to thestudy of risk from disciplines such as cultural anthropology and sociology has been viewed as a response to the characteristic neglect of risk analysts towards the social and cultural contexts in which the notion of risk is constructed, understood, and negotiated by real people. Since the early 1980s, exponents of the sociocultural approach to the study of risk have openly challenged the idea thatrisks are objective phenomena. They argue that risks are never fully objective or knowable outside of belief systems and moral positions. Instead, risks are socially and culturally constructed through pre-existing knowledge and discourse (Douglas & Wildawsky 1983; Nelkin & Brown 1984; Kasperson et al 1988; Beck 1992,1994, 2000; Giddens 1991; Lash 1993, 2001; Wynne 1996; Lupton 1999; Joffe 1999).Specifically regarding occupational risk, some scholars argue that this type of risk is commonly imposed on individuals by institutions, policies, and markets, among others. Communities who are more disadvantaged in the labor market, those confined by class to more limited social and economic options, suffer disproportionately from dangerous working conditions. Thus, risk and danger are sociallyconstructed; they are borne by some for the benefit of others (Nelkin & Brown 1984; Dorman 1996; Lupton 1999; Joffe 1999. “Danger and hardship are the lot of the poor and powerless. In this way differences in the level of risk faced by workers correspond to other differences in their life chances and thus compound them” (Dorman 1996:21)
Literature on the risks and dangers of small-scale divingfisheries comes mainly from the works of professionals in occupational health, hyperbaric medicine diving, and journalism (Lepawski and Wong et al 2001; Johannes & Riepen, 1995; Johannes and Djohani 1997; Gold 2000; Jacques 1997; Izdepski 1997; La Prensa 1997, 1998, Cudney 1998; Marroquin 1999). Their reports have been published through various media: Diving and Medical Journals, International Labor...
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