By Gene Kira, September 29, 2003, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Last week, just about everyone in southern Baja California was quite understandably preoccupied with the rampage of Hurricane Marty, which kicked the living snot out of the Sea of Cortez coast from East Cape, to La Paz, to Loreto, and then "poof!" quickly evaporated and floated away over the Mexican mainland.
Marty's torrential rains and 100 m.p.h.-class winds left behind the usual wreckscape of flooded arroyos, washed-out roads, debris-covered beaches, roofless palapas, smashed breakwaters, and boats jumbled over one another in Baja's semi-exposed marinas.
But for the people of southern Baja's capitol city of La Paz, Marty was actually only one of two big chubascos that happened last week.
Almost nobody noticed the other noteworthy dustup, which took place in Mexico City, when Jerónimo Ramos was quietly replaced as the director of Conapesca, Mexico's Federal Department of Fisheries.
This watershed event occurred at the same moment that our very own city of La Paz was experiencing a quasi-biblical, marina-smashing sledgehammer blow by Hurricane Marty, and the irony was so apposite it was even a bit scary. In Hurricane Marty, it almost seemed that Jerónimo Ramos was sending a vindictive goodbye kiss to La Paz, the city that hates his very name and energetically fostered the increasingly public scorn that finally screwed him to the woodwork.
During the past few years, rumors of Jerónimo Ramos' sacking were floated so many times it seemed that this out-of-sync bureaucrat must have had more than nine lives. But last week, the ax finally fell for good, and there was dancing and celebration all around the Sea of Cortez--even as the rain fell.
Why was Ramos so universally detested by everyone in Baja connected with sportfishing, tourism, and conservation?
At least part of the answer lay not so much in the individual himself, but in his office, through which current President Vicente Fox of the supposedly reformist PAN party has continued the policy of the supposedly displaced PRI: all-out commercial fishing at any cost. Ramos, it must be admitted, consistently and ruthlessly attempted to enforce this policy, and for that he rightly became a pariah to anyone concerned for the welfare of the sea and the life within it.
One of the more surprising revelations following Ramos' ouster last week was the news that he apparently was also detested by Mexico's commercial fishing fleet owners--the very people he was hired to make rich. Statements by leaders of the commercial fishing industry indicated that any change was good, considering the anarchy that now reigns over Mexico's seas and the disastrous decline they have seen in their profits.
But it is arguable if any real progress can be made under the Fox administration. There is little indication that the commercial fishing industry even understands the concept of sustainable management; much of their celebration over Ramos' removable implied that they hoped to get more concessions, not fewer, from his successor.
And who might that successor be? Mexico's new director of fisheries is PAN senator, businessman, and former gubernatorial candidate, Ramón Corral Ávila, from the state of Sonora.
And what might that mean? It's too early to tell, of course, but even in the middle of last week's post-Marty cleanup, the La Paz conservation lobby was already maneuvering to test which way the chubasco will now blow.
Another factor in the equation is Fox's recent firing of Secretary of Natural Resources Victor Líctinger and his attorney general, José Campillo, both of whom were charged with the enforcement of laws pertaining to endangered species and natural protected areas--including the Alto Golfo and Revillagigedo Islands biosphere reserves.
With the departure of these two defenders of the environment, and the appointment of a PAN party stalwart from Sonora (a state whose fisheries policies are dominated by the large shrimp fleets) as director of Conapesca, the big question is whether or not Fox intends--finally--to make a courageous stand for sustainable management.
Following his party's disastrous losses during recent midterm elections, Fox is clearly making changes for the remaining three years of his presidency. But will these changes be for the good, or for increased, politically expedient, short-term exploitation of Mexico's marine resources? That remains to be seen.