CHILOE ISLAND, Chile – Food and gasoline were running dangerously low Friday on this Chilean island that has been blocked from the mainland by desperate fishermen demanding compensation for losing their livelihood to a toxic algae bloom.
Small-scale fishermen have lit flaming barricades for days, restricting access to the island that is best known for its wildlife, stilt houses and historic churches.
That has strangled supplies to tens of thousands of people — though most appear to support the neighbors who produce shellfish and other seafood.
The government has offered about $220 a month to some 5,000 local fishermen as compensation. But they're demanding twice that, saying the offer isn't enough to cover basic needs.
The food scarcity has forced some to gather at common pots in order to feed their families.
"We're in short supply of everything. We're lacking flour, oil, cereals, and milk to feed our babies. But we can still resist for a few days more," said fisherman and diver Oscar Miranda.
President Michelle Bachelet on Friday asked the fishermen to lift the blockade so supplies can be sent to Chiloe and to keep talking with her government to resolve the dispute.
"We won't leave the fishermen behind, but we need them to collaborate with us," Bachelet said.
The government has declared an emergency zone along Chile's south as it deals with the algae known as red tide, which kills fish with a toxin that paralyzes the central nervous system.
Consumption of shellfish from red tide areas can poison humans as well.
Some local residents have blamed commercial salmon farms for the red tide that has affected seven major cities and dozens of fishing towns.
But most experts say it's linked to high temperatures stemming from the El Nino weather pattern, and say the red tide could linger for two more months.
Chile is among the world's top suppliers of salmon and fishing is the backbone of the economy for many communities along the country's long coast.
Millions of salmon were killed earlier this year by the blooming of algae that asphyxiates fish by decreasing oxygen in the water. More than 500 tons of sardines also recently washed ashore on Chilean beaches.
Associated Press writers Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile and Luis Andres Henao in Buenos Aires, Argentina contributed to this report.