Yole Pêcheur Sainte-Luce MartiniqueYole Pêcheur Sainte-Luce Martinique
©Yole Pêcheur Sainte-Luce Martinique|MDES

Fishing in Martinique

The fish of our coasts

With a linear length of 450 km (490 km with the islets), the coastline of Martinique is obviously favorable to fishing. Professional or leisure, fishing has always been practiced. Seine, creel, “miquelon”, line: each seaside commune, each fish has “its fishing” and the skiff remains the most popular boat… Tuna, king mackerel, dolphinfish, marlin, snapper, lobster are part of the delights of our gastronomy.

Martinique, land of fishing

Madinina “the island of flowers” is also a fishing land, bordered by two seas with contrasting aspects and behaviors that have shaped landscapes, shores and villages.

To the east, the Atlantic coast, known as “to the wind“: the Atlantic Ocean is powerful, the waves break on the coastline, except in the southern part where the barrier reef creates a natural protection.

To the west, the Caribbean coast, known as “under the wind“: the sea is calm and the seaside more sheltered. Yet, regardless of the village of origin, fishing is ubiquitous, as a profession, a means of subsistence and an economic sector. A true tradition that men perpetuate, often from generation to generation. Immediate boarding on board the yoles, objective: the miraculous fishing!

The yole

Even though it is in a phase of modernization begun a few decades ago, fishing in Martinique is still based on techniques of which the yole is the mainstay. The gumboat directly dug from the tree of the same name, a legacy of the Caribbean Indians, has now practically disappeared, as has its descendant, the wooden yawl (with sail and oars, remember the old-timers!). The fleet is now composed of resin yawls, propelled by outboard motors. The fisherman must be able to get to his fishing spot as quickly as possible, sometimes more than 100 km from the coast.

Our fish

The Martiniquans are said to be among the biggest fish eaters in the world, not far behind the Japanese. The fishing returns continue to punctuate the life of many villages. Who has not witnessed the unloading of boats in the late morning or the excitement and bursts of voices that accompany a seine return in the early evening has not really known Martinique! …

As can be seen on the stalls, the fish vary according to the source and type of fishing: fish (carangues, parrotfish, bonito, sardines, moray eels, catfish…) and crustaceans (lobsters, edible crab, brigot…) from traps, seine fish (coulirou, balalou, bonito…) and pelagic fish from the shallows (thazard, dorado, tuna, marlin, swordfish, shark…).

This huge tuna detailed in large slices with a cutlass by an expert hand was probably fished dozens of kilometers away! This multitude of multicolored fish was caught in the traps deposited the day before, and these beautiful lobsters occasionally invite themselves in…

The techniques of fishing.

Techniques, some of which were inherited from the Caribbean Indians, developed on a narrow continental shelf: seine fishing from the beach, fishing along the coast with creels (traps) or trolling, and offshore fishing, also known as “Miquelon fishing.”

Seine fishing

The seine fishing has changed little over the centuries. It is still practiced on the Caribbean coast: Anses d’Arlet, Anse Dufour, Bellefontaine, Carbet… Several boats lay two ropes offshore and deploy a large net (the “seine”) in an arc. The ritual is unchanging: people from the village and vacationers come to lend a hand to the “pullers”. Young and old alike work in rhythm to pull on the ropes, gradually bringing the net back to the shore. A moment of solidarity, intense and joyful. If the fishing was good, we distribute coulirous, balaous and jacks to the shooters who will make a good blaff out of it. The “sennier” boss reserves a part of it for his sailors and one for himself, which very often will be used as bait for the next fishing.

Trap fishing

You will often see on certain beaches or around fishing ports, large traps of various shapes and you may even witness them being made or repaired by local fishermen. These are the “traps” used at sea to catch small and large fish. The trap fishing is the most practiced in Martinique on the perimeter of the island plateau. Taken offshore, weighted with stones, imerged to a depth of 10 to 30m for several weeks, and signaled at the surface by plastic cans or bottles,the trap is then brought up by the fishermen with the fish and crustaceans caught : reef fish, snappers, jacks, sardines, surgeonfish, parrotfish, spiny lobster, catfish…
The frame of the creel can be made of wood (pear tree, guava tree) or with concrete iron. The mesh is made of wire mesh, plastic or woven wood.

Come to attend the fishing returns and discover the miraculous fishing of our fishermen, it is a typical scene of Martinique

Fishing in Miquelon

All fishermen have understood that the fish reserve is not inexhaustible! In order to stop overfishing in coastal areas, they have sometimes been forced to respect the boundaries of the threatened plateaus.

It was at this time, in the early 1990s, that the first FADs (fish aggregating devices) were installed around the island. Today, it is estimated that 80% of the local production is made thanks to this floating equipment to attract tuna, dorado, marlin, kingfish …

This offshore fishing is far from easy: the boss must be able to count on a solid boat, a motor in good condition and strong and courageous sailors, in the open sea, which is often stormy. Braving the spray and the vagaries of the weather, the fishermen then cast their trolling lines to catch the big fish attracted by the smaller ones, which are themselves attracted by the ecosystem that has been created around the device.

This fishing aid also gradually mitigates the seasonality of fishing. Not so long ago the seasons were well marked: the old-timers knew the fishing season in Miquelon from November to May and the wintering season from June to October, while the off-season limited them to the island plateau and some shallows. This is the period when creel fishing (“au casier”) was resumed, completed by a seine fishing. With FADs we can now go out almost all year.


A savoir-faire ancestral

The modernization of the fleet, the consideration of resources, European directives, professionalization: in the fishing sector as in many others, times have changed. However, more than in other activities, the tradition makes the resistance, because fishing here is not only about the economy but well of a culture, a way of life, the social link

This ancestral know-how, these almost ritual gestures are passed on from the elders to the youngest. Repairing a net, cleaning the traps, repainting one’s skiff, getting up at dawn and braving the nourishing sea: so many scenes that do not seem to be disappearing anytime soon…