By Gene Kira, June 17, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Last week, I enjoyed a fascinating day, scrutinizing live totoaba in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, with Robert Muñoz of Robert's Fish Mounts.
Together with Robert's understudy artist, John Rosenfeld, we drove down to the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California's totoaba hatchery (next to the Hotel Marina), so we could get a good, eyeball-to-eyeball look at giant totoaba swimming in the tanks and take a bunch of close-up photographs.
Why all the fuss?
Well...last year a large brood totoaba died at the hatchery, and Program Director Conal David True asked the university's marine fossil expert, Dr. Francisco Javier Aranda M., to make a high-quality silicone mold of the carcass. Aranda is a molding expert, having worked on such things as reproducing the skeletons of ancient manatees that once swam off the Baja California coast, and he made a beautiful totoaba mold of silicone inside a plaster body.
Since the totoaba is officially endangered and cannot be legally caught, killed, or transported from its home in the northern Sea of Cortez, Aranda's mold is probably the only one in the world--and certainly the only one of its size and quality.
A few weeks ago, I took this mold up to Robert Muñoz' studio in Fullerton, where Robert had agreed to help support the program by making some--as far as we know--totally unique totoaba reproductions from it.
The only problem: Robert couldn't paint an accurate totoaba mount, because he had never seen a real one.
Sooo...off to Ensenada we went. And, at next spring's Fred Hall Shows in Long Beach and Del Mar, you will be able to see a big, authentic mounted totoaba.
For most adult newcomers (and us grownup kids too), the most fascinating booth at these shows is at Robert's Fish Mounts, where you can goggle at dozens of true-to-life, beautifully-painted fish reproductions and try to guess the species of all the "weird" ones you have never seen before.
Now for the first time, Robert's works of art will include the endangered and protected totoaba, accurately molded from a real fish, and authentically painted from life by Robert himself.
If you've ever been to Robert's "mad artist" studio in Fullerton, you know this is not a place where you would want to walk around alone in the dark. You could easily get gored by a marlin spear, or step on a sailfish dorsal fin, or perhaps trip over part of a yellowfin tuna that hasn't been painted yet. Unless you know your way around, this place could be kinda dangerous.
Robert's Fish Mounts is a super-busy place where the phone rings constantly, and orders are being filled for decorators, restaurants, museums, and of course, individual anglers who want to commemorate their prize catches. A new website with interactive features will soon be launched to help clients order their mounts.
After 27 years of wrapping silicone, elastomers, and fiberglass around fresh fish from Baja, Robert has hundreds of species molds in his warehouses, and many sizes of most species, all ready for filling customers' orders. How many molds has he made? Although Robert himself has no accurate count, the total number of molds available probably runs into the thousands. For instance, he's got about 40 sizes of yellowfin tuna alone.
Yet, there's always a new fish to make, and this year, one of those fish will be a rare totoaba, perfectly molded, and portrayed in true-to-life coloration. These very special mounts will be used for educational purposes, to teach people about the magnificent totoaba, their amazing history, their endangered status, and how to recognize them so that commercial poaching and illegal sport fishing for them can be stopped.
Muchas gracias, Roberto!
(Related Ensenada articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Ensenada information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Ensenada area in "Mexico Fishing News.")