July 31, 2000, by Gene Kira:
This column is about "tourist anglers" in Baja California who have kept too many fish at least once in their lives. Let's admit it. That means you, and me, and practically everybody we know. Right?
Most of the really outrageous "over-keeping" occurred back in the days when we had never even heard the word "ecology," and we, the guilty, can claim "simple ignorance" as a weak but valid defense. We don't need to reopen those old wounds.
But there's a whole lot of bad stuff still going down in Baja, and it's time to talk about it. People who should know better are still taking excess fish due to ignorance, emotional problems, or the coarse form of satisfaction that some of our species experiences during the act of killing.
Sadly, it is probably the latter reason that accounts for most of the excess. If Homo sapiens weren't internally hard-wired to kill other species--and even each other--we'd probably be down on all fours right now, gnawing on grass and roots for dinner. Or maybe, we wouldn't be around at all. In the tough streets of our evolutionary past, nice guys finished last, and there's a sort of harsh truth in the bumper sticker that says: "I didn't survive ten million years of evolution to be a damned vegetarian."
But today, even though we no longer need to have our fangs out constantly, the old hard-wiring can come bubbling up, and we do things we are not proud of. Sadly, this seems to happen a lot among us Baja anglers.
Some true examples of this kind of atavistic binge killing:
--I recently watched a man fillet a waist-high pile of fish (I stopped counting at over 300) that he had caught while bottom fishing. He had kept every one he caught. He lives with a wife and no kids, and he fishes several times a year. Why did he feel such a strong need to possess more than 600 fillets? This man was literally drooling as he cut the fish. I stood well away from him and kept silent.
--I once knew a guy who insisted on keeping nearly a hundred corvina, weighing between five and fifteen pounds, caught during a one-week Baja fishing trip. He carefully wrapped them all in aluminum foil and plastic bags and froze them. Three years later, we discovered the corvina, darned near every one of them, down in the bottom of a freezer. They had hardly eaten any of them.
--An acquaintance of mine was literally filling his small boat to the gunnels one day during a wide-open dorado bite. When his fishing partner complained about keeping too many, he threw them all overboard...and kept fishing.
--Last week, I received an email from the dismayed operator of one of Baja's best-known ecotourism resorts. It seems her business partner's son had paid them a visit, listened to their message of conservation and environmental awareness, and then gone out and caught (and killed) 23 dorado! They were dumbfounded and heartbroken.
--I just received a ludicrous fish report from a very well-known and respected charter operation in Baja. When I questioned their fish count, they admitted that their clients for the day had caught quadruple Mexican limits. Totally oblivious to the damaging effects and possible legal repercussions of allowing this to happen, the charter operator had filed his report in hopes of attracting more business. I killed his report, as a service to him, to the industry, and to the fish as well.
The above are but extreme examples of the "little" sins that are committed daily all over Baja. We know that sportfishing limits are broken as a matter of course, and we accept it.
But we shouldn't.
It has been said that the human species has stopped evolving physically. This is because our technology and abundant food supply have halted the process of natural selection. Example: nearsighted people (like me) no longer starve to death because of their inability to catch rabbits; they wear glasses, shop at the supermarket, and live to produce more nearsighted people.
That sounds logical, but it has nothing to do with intellectual and moral evolution, which depend on us, not on the supply of rabbits. It is time for us to take our love of fishing to the next level, to enjoy it not as an exercise in killing and filling our bellies, but as a means of contacting and appreciating the natural world.
There is another very strong reason for the over-keeping of fish in Baja: the attitude of many Mexican service providers. Here, we are dealing with the tremendous financial pressure felt by pangueros, mothership operators, and sportfishing cruiser skippers to please their clients. They tend to look the other way when an "unenlightened" client wants to kill too many fish, because they are afraid of losing business. I'll never forget the time when I heard a mothership skipper call out for everyone to go ahead and keep two illegal totoaba. This very experienced man knew how wrong that was, but even his judgment was clouded by the fact that we were having a slow trip and his clients were grumbling. With a crew depending on him for their paychecks, he was feeling desperate, and I can't really criticize his decision (although I certainly don't approve of it).
Here's a solution to this problem that I discovered when my son was still a toddler and I used to take him fishing in pangas at San Felipe. I only wanted to fish for two hours, since that was about all the little kid could tolerate before he got tired. But it was almost impossible to get the pangueros to quit after such a short time. They were convinced that they would lose their tips, and there was always a big fight about it. Once, I had to actually grab the tiller and threaten to throw my panguero out of the boat if he didn't take us back to the hotel right now. Finally I got the idea of giving them their regular tip before we left the beach. After that, the pressure was off, and they were quite happy to quit any time I said.
This works with your "fish count" too. Whether you tip before or after fishing, make it absolutely clear to your skipper that the size of his tip depends on his service to you, and absolutely, positively not on how many fish you catch. And then, stick to that promise.
(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")