El Barril Quick Facts
Population: 90-100 Residents
Families: approximately 25
Children Under 16: roughly 30

El Barril Community Profile (as of 2008)

El Barril is a small fishing village approximately three hours south of Bahia de Los Angeles and three hours east of Guerrero Negro. It is situated on the Sea of Cortez near what was once a small mining community and was established approximately 30 years ago. Some of its first residents included Policarpio Villavicencio Aguilar, a rancher, and Juanita Villavicencio. Juanita brought along her six daughters, all of whom are now adults with their own families in El Barril.

Houses

20-25. Most have dirt floors and basic metal or plywood construction. Many houses have a small solar panel, installed by the government around 2003 that charges a 12volt DC battery and runs two compact florescent lights. Over the past three years, a few families have begun construction on new homes.

Infrastructure

From 2005-2007 the Mexican government provided a water purifier and generator to the community (neither of which are currently functioning), and constructed an icehouse with a generator. Additional structures in town are: primary school, secondary school, and multipurpose community center (all one-room structures); church/teachers’ living quarters, abandoned two-story stone building, a water tower with lines providing one water point source at each home, two 40+ foot community wells, four privately owned wells, shade structure and fish drying rack near the cove, town plaza/cement courtyard, a soccer field, dirt air strip, and three self-sufficient privately-owned properties.

Transportation

No public buses or trucks serve El Barril. Several families own a personal vehicle. All roads are unpaved, including those leading to nearby towns.

Boats

About 15 small fishing boats are owned in the community.Nearest TownBahia de los Angeles, approximately 100 miles north and Guerrero Negro, approximately 100 miles east, are both about a 3 hour drive away. Most goods and services, including health services, can be obtained there.

Community Leaders

Though there are no formally elected community leaders, Lizandro Sandez and Luis Villavicencio have taken active leadership roles in town. There are no formal government offices, representatives, or police in El Barril. Two teachers live in the community during the academic year. A priest comes approximately once a month.

Government Services

Health workers and doctors visit once a month (though sometimes less often) to provide check ups, health education, and medicine. Because El Barril’s fishing waters are part of a protected marine reserve, CONANP has increased their presence in El Barril, providing development, health, and capacity-building resources. According to community members, the Oportunidades program will also start serving the community starting in 2008.

Groups

In 2007 two new groups were established by community members – a turtle conservation group, now receiving funding from CONANP and Isla Mujeres, a women’s cooperative for selling fish products. There are three ongoing groups: the Women’s Health Committee; Sociedad de Produccion Rural “Pescadores del Barril” (the fishing cooperative) and a currently inactive sewing cooperative.

Work

Most men fish in small outboard motor powered boats (pangas) in groups of two or more. Different species are targeted in different seasons as follows: Yellowtail are caught via baited handlines from roughly November to February but seasons are highly erratic in volumes caught and timing. Shark are fished offshore using drift gill nets from May to July with fins being very valuable and meat almost a zero sum endeavor. This was once the primary fishery in the area but due to overexploitation it is now composes a small percentage of overall annual catches. Mid July to early September is the off-season with limited activity due high temperatures that inhibit production and transport (freshness and competition with pacific sources). Inshore gillnetting and trapping for various species in the interm periods provides consistent albeit small catches with halibut, various bass, and bottom/rock fish targeted. Everything other than salted/dried shark meat is sold to buyers from Ensenada fresh on ice.

Work hours are from typically from about sunrise to 2 or 3pm, though shark are fished on overnight trips. Fish are sold to buyers from Ensenada who stay in the community for a few days weighing and packing an ice-truck with fish. Catch records from El Barril for 2006 indicated the average buying price for yellowtail (jurel) was 11 pesos per kilo, or $USD 0.47 per pound while spotted sandbass (cabrilla sardinera) sold at 28 pesos per kilo, or $USD 1.20, two of the more important species. These low prices are an indication of the challenges isolation and buyer dependence places on the coop. Overall, declines in fish populations and regulations associated with the newly established marine protected area around the islands to the northeast have limited the profitability of the fishery. As a result, fisherman and their families live on a subsistence level whereby income covers the costs of production, trips to Guerrero Negro for necessary household goods, and very little else.

To help address some of these issues the Baja Project has been active in developing market strategies to overcome current buyer dependence, including the foundations necessary for export. Capacity building that will increase the efficiency and management of the coop is another goal being undertaken via training activities with the coop leadership.

There are a few families employed as caretakers of the private properties, responsible for maintenance, repair, house keeping, and cooking.

Women are engaged in house work, childcare, community health, some sewing, and managing small local shops.

Water

The primary community well (40+ft deep) has three pumps: two solar-powered and one electric driven by a gas generator. A carbon based filter was installed for drinking water, to address persistent problems with algae blooms in the holding tank. This well has high salinity as a result of salt intrusion from the nearby Sea of Cortez. Although the water table is generally located below the clay layer, at the sit of this primary public well the clay layer has eroded and the water table begins at the surface, with no impermeable layer to protect it from the salt intrusions or pollution from runoff and poor sanitation.

Sanitation

Most houses have pit latrines, surrounded by corrugated metal or wooden panels for privacy. In 2006 the Baja Project helped build three dry-composting latrines in town, showcasing basic innovations that could reduce contamination in groundwater; one is no longer serviceable.

Agriculture

Limited, due to desert dry conditions and poor soil quality. Some families have small vegetable and/or flower gardens in their front yards. The community garden has been successful in specific seasons.