By Gene Kira, April 28, 2003, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Baja is always a seductive chimera, giving you different looks every time you go down, and last week's visit to Ensenada was a good example.
At the San Diego airport, I picked up Bill Owens, who had flown down from Oakland, and we crossed the border and headed to the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California (UABC) totoaba laboratory on the beach at the north end of town.
The main object of this visit was to deliver a donation check from Bill, which will support one of the Ensenada laboratory's six student interns for a year. Thank you, Bill Owens of El Cerrito, California. May your seas always be flat and the fish always jumping for you.
UABC Totoaba Lab Director, Conal David True, gave us a tour packed with insights. Bill was impressed by the sheer size of the totoaba being bred by the UABC biologists. And I was busy picking up fascinating tidbits of new information.
Example: tiny totoaba hatchlings evolved in the blood-warm sea of the Colorado River Delta, with water temperatures in the high-80s, where there is very little air dissolved in the water. In the lab, seawater must be vacuum treated to remove excess air. Otherwise, the precious little fry will balloon up with gas and explode!
Talk about picky, picky, picky.
But despite our happy purpose, this visit to the Ensenada UABC lab felt different from normal, because a critical federal funding grant requested last year still has not been approved. The future of the world's last remaining totoaba depends on this one, unique program, and as Bill and I drove away from the busy university campus, I could only wonder what that future will bring.
Our next Ensenada stop was a totally different part of the chimera: a visit with Bruno Duarte, of the commercial tuna fishing company, Duarpesca, which operates ten of the world's last remaining rack-and-pole "bait boats."
In a ritual from time immemorial, these commercial fishing boats chum with live bait, and the fishermen catch tuna with poles, one at a time. There is virtually zero by-catch with this method, no porpoise kill, no turtles, birds, billfish. It's nothing but tuna, and from an environmental standpoint, there is no more perfect form of commercial fishing.
But, like San Diego's long range sport fishing fleet, Duarpesca was blind-sided by Mexico's closure of the Revillagigedo Islands last year.
As we interviewed Bruno Duarte, a tall, soft-spoken man who was an architect in San Diego during an earlier life, I was struck by the parallels with San Diego's sport fishing boats.
It is clear to all parties concerned that the islands should be studied, and the six-mile zone of total prohibition should be adjusted for activities that do no harm.
But Bruno Duarte seems almost resigned to the possiblity that the federal government will not act in time to save Duarpesca, its ten boats, and the hundreds of families that depend on them.
Sitting beneath a large painting of a boat that is still skippered by his father, Duarte said in an emotionless voice that the 2003 season may well be the last.
The afternoon had become late. As we descended the stairs from his second floor office, I hoped for an opportunity this summer to write about Duarte's boats and families, before their way of life perhaps passes into history.
Bill and I had reservations to fish at Ensenada the next morning in a traditional wooden Vonny's Fleet panga owned by Fred Hoctor's good friends, Ivan and Martha Villarino. We drove out to Punta Banda and enjoyed a belly-laugh evening of shooting the bull with Ivan and Martha, but as luck would have it, we woke the following morning to wind and rain, and white caps on the horizon. No lingcod or halibut for us.
It had been a very interesting, but unusual Baja trip. At the Vonny's Fleet cabañas, we bid farewell to Punta Banda and sped north, leaving the chimera of the last two days behind.
ENSENADA PANGA FISHING--Ivan Villarino, with regular client Jay Johnson at the Vonny's Fleet tackle shop on Punta Banda, Ensenada, Mexico.
(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.")