Robinson Crusoe Island Seafood Chile
It takes two and a half hours by plane from Santiago, half an hour on foot, and an hour by boat to reach the lone tiny village on the island of Robinson Crusoe in the Juan Fernandez archipelago.
The name of this island is linked to the incredible adventures of Alexander Selkirk, made legendary in Daniel Defoe’s novel, and somehow the island still retains an evocative atmosphere. Landing on the airstrip is an adventure in itself, as the plane coasts to a stop in a desert-like landscape. In the distance the plaintive cries of gulls and seals can be heard as they float serenely in the water. A boat takes you round to the other side of the island into a lush world of woods, streams and pastures reminiscent of high altitude meadows. 83% of animal and plant species on this island are indigenous, including native species of seaweed, birds and mammals and, in particular, fish and shellfish. Goats and wild rabbits live in inland areas and a few cattle are farmed, but the real life on the island is found in the sea. Almost all the island’s inhabitants have fished for a living for at least three centuries. The most celebrated catch, which dates back to at least the eighteenth century, is the local rock lobster. This species, Jasus frontalis, is found only here and in the waters of the Desventuradas Islands of San Felix and Sant’Ambrosio, a three-hour boat trip to the north.
These lobsters are caught at a depth of 2 to 200 meters by lowering rectangular traps made by the fishermen from the branches of the local maqui tree. Until a few years ago the traps would be lifted by hand; a small motor is now used—the only concession to innovation. The small wooden boats are based on the design of old whaling ships and have historically been built on the island by the Chamorro family.
Lobster fishing on Robinson Crusoe Island is only allowed between October and mid-May and the specimens caught must be at least 12 to 14 years old.
The waters of the island have many other species of interesting fish, mollusks and shellfish of gastronomic interest, such as the red crab (Chaceon chilensis), which is caught at a depth of five to six hundred meters using the same wooden cages as the rock lobster, the black sea urchin (Aspidodiadema microtuberculatum), and the sea bream (Cheilodactylus gayi), a fish with fine white flesh, the trevally (Pseudocaranx chilensis) and the yellowtail amberjack (Seriola lalandi), both caught with a very long hook called an espinel.
On 27 February 2010 a devastating earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale struck south-central Chile. In the areas affected by the earthquake, at least 200,000 houses were destroyed or damaged, schools, hospitals, factories and offices collapsed, and many Chileans lost their homes and livelihoods. The quake particularly affected the Robinson Crusoe Island Seafood Presidium. In the minutes following the first tremors, a series of tsunami waves were created in the waters of the Pacific that hit the coasts of the Juan Fernandez archipelago.
It was here in 2005 that Slow Food started a Presidium to support the valuable work of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago Fishermen's Association, with the aim of protecting a unique marine ecosystem, preserving traditional fishing activities and expanding the protected area around the island. With the tsunami, many fishermen have lost their homes, boats and fishing equipment, and the restaurant and shop, which were near the San Juan Bautista pier, were swept away along with everything around them.
For 2011-12, the Slow Food presidium has decided to focus its efforts on helping fishermen to resume activity and start gaining an income. The first step has been the reconstruction of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago Fishermen's Association office, which will be used as a meeting place for the island community to reorganise production and fishing activities. In the medium to long term, this new office will be attached to other establishments such as a restaurant and a laboratory for the processing of fish as another way to stimulate the economy.
Robinson Crusoe and Alejandro Selkirk Islands, Juan Fernandez Archipelago, Valparaiso Region
Presidium supported by
105 fishermen united in the Sindicato de Pescadores Artesanales del Archipiélago Juan Fernández.
Juan Torres de Rodt
tel. +56 322122371