Of the fish found in the seas and rivers and the way the Indians fish, and of the ones that can be generally found in fresh or sea water.
Translated by Madison Wilson ’22
The Indians’ most common and favorite dish is fish from the rivers and the seas. And they are very skilled at the tools and arts they use to catch them; just as in Spain some fish with reed or cane, the Indians do so with thin, flexible rods, ropes and longlines, and most commonly with very well-made cotton nets. They also use hand-made enclosures or cutoffs they stake into the reefs or wherever the tides rise and fall on the coast; they also fish from their canoes (which are made of wood the way I described earlier and will describe in more detail later). They also use a certain herb called baygua, in place of plumbago, leadwort or canella; the herb is crumbled in the water and is then either eaten by the fish or it penetrates the water on its own and stuns them, and in little time they float belly-up, asleep or unconscious, and the Indians collect them with their hands in huge quantities. This baygua is like a vine, and when mashed or chopped it stuns and puts the fish to sleep, as I said.
But aside from this method, they also collect large quantities of fish in the other ways I have already mentioned. I believe the fish here are healthier than those in Spain because they have less phlegm, though they are not as good tasting. But there are very good ones here like mullet, big and small; horse mackerel; two-banded sea bream; wolf or tiger fish; pomfrets; cichlids; tarpon; snook; slopefish; hammerhead sharks, octopus, dogfish, school sharks, sardines, needlefish, common sole and wedge sole, a salmon-like fish called salmonados (but it is not salmon), oysters, clams and many other kinds of shellfish, lobsters, crabs, crayfish, shrimp, many rays that are very large in some parts; many and very large eels and moray eels, sharks, monk seals, large and small turtles that the Indians call hicoteas; many mahi-mahi (this is one of the good fish of the sea); vihuela fish; many flying fish but much smaller and different than those found in the Spanish seas we call flying gurnard, mako sharks, Commerson’s dolphin, and lots of whales And there are a great number of each type or species I have mentioned. But let us not extend this matter further, since all these fish of the rivers and seas are also in the seas and rivers of Spain.
Let us come, then, to the specialty and particular relation of some of what I mentioned above, because this book should not be useful only in this first part of the Natural History of the Indies. But forgive me, if I repeat myself in the second part or if I rewrite many of these things when it is convenient to talk about them in the books ahead. I mentioned before that the Indians fish with rope or fishing lines, imitating the way we fish in Spain. I say that they learned these two ways of fishing from the Christians, because the Indians did not have hooks. So, apart from these two ways of fishing, even without them they took advantage and fished continually using other methods, and also with xudrias and certain types of fish traps or garlitos in the rivers. Now let us move on to the particular fish.