By Gene Kira, Dec. 24, 2001, as published in Western Outdoor News:
One of the worst environmental malefactors of the Mexican federal bureaucracy's fisheries policy got a well-deserved spanking a few weeks ago, at a high-level conference convened in Manzanillo by Secretary of Tourism, Leticia Navarro.
If you've never heard of Jeronimo Ramos, it's probably enough to know that he's the old-guard politico who, as a former top official in PESCA (Department of Fisheries), and now head of the National Commission of Aquaculture and Fisheries, has been a longstanding backroom proponent of such in-your-face abuses as longlining inside Baja's world-famous striped marlin core zone.
The recent Manzanillo conference was a case in point. Incredibly, Ramos reintroduced his old proposals not only to allow longlining inside Mexico's 50-mile protected coastal zone, but also to allow commercial fishing for dorado, marlin, sailfish, roosterfish, swordfish, and tarpon.
Using his favorite ploy, Ramos called for the administrative issuing of "experimental" longline permits, this time for shark fishing, that would, as in the past, actually be used to harvest a commercial "accidental bycatch" of tuna, marlin, swordfish, and other species. (This was the same device Ramos used in his defeated campaign last year to allow the unbridled longlining of Mexico's striped marlin core zone.) The problem with longlining--in case you didn't already know--is that it is "unselective"; it kills not only the target species, but anything else that happens to come by, including even sea birds and sea turtles. The effect is like spreading poison on the water.
Fortunately, this year a vocal group of Mexican and foreign conservation and sport fishing experts was ready and waiting for Ramos at Manzanillo. They slapped him down by calling his data, in so many words, a pack of lies, and his proposals were given a summary heave-ho.
With almost unfathomable chutzpah and success, Ramos has been the protector of unmonitored, sometimes illegal fishing, even within such sensitive hot spots as the Revillagigedo archipelago, a highly sensitive and threatened miracle of a marine environment that happens to be within the jurisdiction of the state of Colima (represented at the conference by Congressman Roberto Preciado), and also within the sphere of influence of the very wealthy and increasing powerful Los Cabos tourist corridor.
At Manzanillo, all hell broke loose, and Ramos' reputation and influence were severely compromised, as his Revillagigedo abuses were exposed before the federal government. Action will soon follow, and we can expect to see an honest observer program put into place for the first time.
Among the changes within the Mexican government since the election of President Fox has been the subjugation of PESCA to a watchdog agency called CONAPESCA which includes representatives of tourism, conservation, the navy, and other agencies charged with promulgating and enforcing measures to protect the marine environment.
This, in turn, has brought together an international coalition of conservation forces such as the Mexican Billfish Foundation, headed by Luis Bulnes Molleda, Julio Berdegue, Luis Coppola Joffroy, and Guillermo Alvarez; Seawatch, headed by Mike McGettigan; and Amigos del Mar de Cortez, headed by John Brakey.
With growing confidence that their voices will be heard by the new government, these Mexican sportfishing and tourism interests are now lobbying for the total elimination of longlines, gillnets, and FADs within Mexican waters; the permanent decommercialization of dorado, billfish, roosterfish, and tarpon; and the denial of Mexican ports to any boat fishing near the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone with non-selective gear.
In another development promising for Baja conservation, the Federal Department of Tourism has also named the sensitive Magdalena Bay area as Mexico's lead saltwater tourist location to be developed during the coming era. (The state of Chiapas was designated as the lead freshwater location.) And now, the powerful U.S. Billfish Foundation has agreed to ally itself with, and support these efforts financially by working together with the Mexican Billfish Foundation.
It is important to note that without the backing of the powerful Los Cabos tourist corridor, none of this would be happening. We mourn the beautiful "old Baja," but ironically, it is the new Baja--and specifically, the money that we tourists spend down there--that is coming to the rescue of the fish. The once-small, panga-sized movement is becoming a heavy battleship that will not be denied, and politicians such as Jeronimo Ramos are being pushed aside at last.
(Related Mexico articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Mexico information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Mexico area in "Mexico Fishing News.")