Celia Talbot Tobin

The Fishing Women of Sinaloa 

A community’s multi-faceted approach to restoration of the Gulf of California’s ecosystem.

Story commissioned by the Solutions Visual Journalism Initiative. Text and images by Celia Talbot Tobin.
Yanett Castro, president of the fisher women’s collective Almejeras de Santa Cruz, pushed for two years to receive an official permit to harvest and sell wild oysters in the local lagoon in Altata, Sinaloa. 1 June 2021.
Jacques Cousteau once called the Sea of Cortez the “aquarium of the world.” The wide strip of sea between mainland Mexico and the Baja peninsula, also known as the Gulf of California, is considered one of the richest marine environments in the world. However, like many such habitats, the gulf’s broad, shallow waters have also been subject to decades of overfishing, leaving communities that rely on it at risk and the ecosystem balancing on the edge of collapse.
Left: Women from the Dautillos and Altata communities reconvene after attempting to collect a species of clam in what turned out to be an over-harvested area. Many of the women fish with their young children when they’re not in school, an occurrence that has increased during the pandemic. 3 June 2021. Right: Community members relax after a morning of clam and oyster collecting during the annual Dia de la Marina, a festival that consumes many coastal communities in celebration of all things ocean. 1 June 2021.
Facing an onslaught of coastal development projects and ever-expanding shrimp farms, a number of communities are beginning to double down on sustainable tactics, such as voluntarily not fulfilling their designated harvest quotas or seeking legal protective measures to allow the seabed to naturally restore. Significantly, many such efforts are being led by women.
Yanett dresses before entering into the mangroves outside the town of Aguamitas to collect wild oysters and clams. The work is gruellingly physical, wading through thick, sludge-like mud in and amongst the mangrove roots, and requires every inch of skin to be covered and protected from spiny branches and dangerously sharp shells. 1 June 2021.
In and around Altata Bay, carved into the Sinaloan coast at the southeast edge of the gulf, several fishing cooperatives made exclusively of women are trying to preserve their fragile lagoons by, in part, changing the way women are heard and seen in the world of fishing, an industry historically dominated by men. Since forming their collectives in 2017, the fisherwomen of Dautillos, Las Aguamitas and Altata–each situated on their own lagoon or estuary, but often working together–have been pushing for better enforcement of the environmental regulations that expanding shrimp farms brazenly flout, a consequence, they say, of corruption at every political level, including the country’s national aquaculture and fishing commission.
Many coastal communities make a holiday of the annual Dia de la Marina, a festival that celebrates all things ocean and often includes a crowning of the Reina de la Marina (The Queen of the Marine). In 2021, the tiny town of Aguamitas, home to one of the three fisherwomen’s collectives, was the only local community to resume the holiday while still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. 1 June 2021.
Each collective has jumped through hoops to acquire low-level permits for certain bivalves, depending on the estuary they’re in—oysters, mussels, several different types of clams. The women’s focus is currently multi-tiered: acquiring more permits for a wider variety of sustainable species; growing their market from small seaside vendors into the inland state capital; and banding their three collectives together as a legal federation. Federations tend to wield more lobbying power to push for protections like designated restoration areas and stricter enforcement of environmental regulations on large shrimp farms.
Left: Yanett Castro in front of her home in the outskirts of Altata. 4 June, 2021. Right: One of Yanett’s oyster harvests waits to be lowered into the water for safekeeping after being sold to a local vendor. 3 June 2021.

“It’s important that we change the story,” says Yanett Castro, president of the Altata women’s collective and the individual most responsible for leading the charge among the three groups. Castro comes from a family of fishermen in which, she says, women always played a role, but were relegated to the sidelines: “I know what my grandmother lived through, I know she didn’t have the same opportunities as me. And why? Because she didn’t realize she could, just like I used to not know.” Castro believes women are particularly adept at creative problem solving, especially when it comes to sustainable thinking. “We have the same rights as men. We believe the sea belongs to everyone.” 

Solutions Visual Journalism Initiative

This project is one of the stories commissioned by the Solutions Visual Journalism Initiative, supporting visual storytellers to produce stories reporting on a response to a problem. The initiative is a joint project by the World Press Photo Foundation, the Message in a Photo Foundation (MIAP) and the Solutions Journalism Network