By Gene Kira, April 1, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Back in 'Nam, when I was hanging out of helicopters, shooting pictures with three Nikons around my neck, and writing articles on the sly for an innocuous little underground newspaper called The Grunt Free Press, one of my favorite quotations came from somebody in the U.S. military, who said (to paraphrase; it's been a while) that we had to "destroy a certain village, in order to save it."
As a young, closet-humanist combat reporter, I never did get the hang of that kind of logic, but in gathering facts for this week's story of the big dust-up at the Revillagigedo Islands, off the Pacific coast of Mexico, I was reminded of it. Seems like everybody wants a piece of the Revillagigedos, and let the islands be damned.
Once again, the battle lines are a messy web of hidden agendas and weird alliances. There are so many axes being ground, it's like the night before the action starts in a Halloween teen-gore flick.
The undisputed bad guys are the commercial long-line boats that sneak into the Revillagigedo Islands Biosphere Reserve, about 200 miles south of Cabo San Lucas, and illegally kill shark, tuna, wahoo, billfish, birds, turtles, and anything else that crosses their miles-long hook arrays.
The current sacrificial scapegoats are the San Diego long-range sport fishing boats, who have also been fishing the islands, but under a verbal agreement negotiated with the Mexican government. Without warning, last week, Mexico's PROFEPA unilaterally abrogated that agreement, and kicked the American boats out in mid-season.
Urging PROFEPA on is a strange coalition of environmentalist groups and Baja Sur business interests. One branch of this coalition issues a constant stream of anecdotal propaganda, and the other branch supplies political connections, financial backing, and logistical support for PROFEPA inspectors.
In Mexico City, the main battle is between PROFEPA's parent organization, SEMARNAT (Mexico's secretariat for natural resources), which says it is trying to protect the islands, and the old PESCA Mexican fisheries department headed by the increasingly beleaguered Jeronimo Ramos, which is doing everything it can to promote commercial fishing in any form.
There are two potential big losers here.
First, of course, is the San Diego long-range sportfishing fleet, which is in grave danger of being reduced to a shadow of its former self, if it really is banned from the islands on a permanent basis.
The other big potential loser is the sea life around the Revillagigedos. Without the U.S. sport fishing fleet's eyes out there, only a tiny handful of boats are left to "patrol" the remote waters surrounding Islas Socorro, Clarion, San Benedicto, and Partida. The most notable of these are Mike McGettigan's Ambar III, and Luis Bulnes' Solmar V. These are just two seasonal tourist dive boats, totally insufficient for counter-balancing the influx of longliners that will now be able to plunder the islands almost unseen.
Here's a modest proposal, presented in the hope that cooler, wiser heads may eventually prevail.
--Might it be possible for the environmentalist and business interests to back off just a bit, and admit that commercial fishing is the real enemy, and conscientious sport fishing does no significant harm to migratory fish populations?
--Might the Los Cabos business interests admit that by convincing PROFEPA to ban all fishing at the islands, they have just shot themselves in the foot, since they are not able to fish there either? (Unless, of course, this whole thing is a plot to clear the American boats away, so a few Mexican boats, with "special" permission, can monopolize the market. (Oh! What a nasty thought! Forget I mentioned it.)
--Might the environmentalists admit that they also have just shot themselves in the foot, since now virtually nobody is left at the islands to witness illegal commercial fishing there? Might it be that they have been used as pawns by some dark forces whose ultimate plan is to rape the islands commercially? (Oh, boy. That's really nasty. Forget that one, too.)
--Finally, might it be possible to re-admit conscientious sport fishing at the islands, in exchange for the San Diego long-range fleet's concerted aid in keeping the commercial boats away?
With only slight modifications in schedules and routes, the large San Diego fleet, as "vigilancia civil," could help immeasurably in patrolling not only the islands, but also the striped marlin core zone and all the coastal waters north to the U.S. border. In the grandest scale imaginable, the natural partnership between sport fishing and conservation would be displayed as an example to the world.
All we need for this to be possible is the final completion of an island management plan that has always included sport fishing anyway, but has been held in limbo for the past five years. Why not do something intelligent, clear the legal decks, and publish this plan?
Why can't this happen? Why is it necessary to destroy the islands' fishery in order to save it? I dunno. It's like Vietnam, I guess.
(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.")