By Gene Kira, Dec. 30, 2002, , as published in Western Outdoor News:
A whole lot of "conservation stuff" happened in the Baja fishing arena last year, and it looks like more news may be in store for 2003.
The biggest overall development of the year was that the self-destructive policies of the Mexican Department of Fisheries (CONAPESCA) were effectively opposed for the first time in history by a powerful new coalition of conservation lobbyists, the Navy, courageous political leaders, the tourism industry, an increasingly effective Department of Natural Resources, and most of all, national media exposure and grassroots public opinion.
CONAPESCA's bankrupt policy of all-out commercial fishing at any cost lost four major battles during 2002: the closing of the Revillagigedo Islands Biosphere Reserve, the banning of gill nets at East Cape, the killing of Shark Norma 029, and the closing of the Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve.
For 2003, the pressure continues on these and a number of other Baja fishing fronts, including: banning gill nets at Los Cabos, banning commercial fishing at the Los Cabos offshore bajos (Gordo, Jaime, and Golden Gate), drafting of a management plan for the Revillagigedos, and true enforcement at the Loreto and Cabo Pulmo Marine Parks.
In each of these fights, the most important factor of all is grassroots public opinion, which gives people like Baja California Sur Director of Tourism Bobby Van Wormer Jr. the political base to oppose CONAPESCA. All around the Sea of Cortez, people are becoming totally disgusted with CONAPESCA, and they are starting to go on the record and raise hell. In 2003, you can look for more grassroots support and steady lobbying pressure in Mexico City, resulting in more defeats for CONAPESCA.
Additionally, there is a paradigm shift of the Mexican mind occurring all around the Cortez. For the first time, people are going on record and sticking their necks out to report what they see as corruption in CONAPESCA: when they think they see money being paid for illegal fishing privileges, or for protection when killing protected species such as totoaba and turtles. There is money being raised and lawsuits are in the works. If this trend matures during 2003, we can expect to see some explosive revelations.
Two areas deserve special mention for 2003: the Los Cabo gill nets, and the Revillagigedos Islands management plan.
At Los Cabos, the winter sierra migration has arrived in full force, and gill netting pangas have begun working the coast at San Jose del Cabo. Sierra are being caught by the ton and are being dumped on the market for a pathetic price of about 27 cents per pound. Meanwhile, the gill nets are also killing tons of small cabrilla, jacks and other fish as by-catch.
The extreme shortsightedness of this type of waste in an area where tourists are willing to pay upwards of $180 for a day of panga fishing, plus tips, bait, hotel rooms, taxi rides, souvenirs, restaurant meals, beer, night clubs, etc., etc., is driving many locals crazy. Why should a few commercial pangas be allowed to ruin the pot for everyone? Why can't Los Cabos follow East Cape's example and ban the nets too? Indeed. Expect some fireworks soon on this issue.
Finally, at the Revillagigedos Islands, the sport fishing ban that stunned the San Diego long range fleet early last year remains in effect, and my understanding is that a long-overdue management plan now being drafted for the islands includes no provision for future sport fishing. If true, this would be a logical consequence of the restrictive law governing biosphere reserves. For 2003, it remains to be seen if U.S. and Mexican sport fishing industries will be forced to abide by this unfair ruling, or if they can work together to get the law amended and/or a proper management plan up into place.
All that remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: 2003 is going to be another very interesting year for Baja fishing.
(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.")