By Gene Kira, May 6, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
During a week of rushing to appointments in Mexico City, I got two clear ideas of the Mexican government's perception of the Revillagigedo Island fishing closure: 1. It really, really got people's attention, at least in the key agencies involved. 2. It is but one incident in a much greater movement toward accountability, legitimacy, and the protection of natural resources.
The main question since this controversy began six weeks ago has always been whether the Mexican government under President Vicente Fox would follow the written fisheries law, or the path of convenience, as previous administrations have done.
We now know the answer. On this issue at least, it seems that Mexico fisheries practice will follow the law. For the foreseeable future, there will be no sport or commercial fishing allowed within 12 nautical miles of Islas Socorro, Clarion, San Benedicto, and Roca Partida.
For the bureaucrats and politicians involved--ranging from local PROFEPA inspectors to department secretaries reporting directly to President Fox--the Revillagigedos decision presented obvious political risks. During last week's build-up to a critical policy-making meeting on April 30, you could almost feel the momentum growing day-by-day, as key officials began to sense they were not alone.
On the American side, I don't think there is much appreciation for the degree of change occurring in the Mexican government's way of doing business. Many of the comments I hear coming from Americans involved in the Revillagigedos fight are grounded on the "old way" of under-the-table dealings, backroom political influence, and "letting things slide" that has traditionally been the way to get things done in Mexico, as we all know so well.
Well, amigos, I'm not so sure that's the best way to work with this new democratic government. I'm not saying Mexico has "come clean." Hey, even I'm not that big a Pollyanna. But I can say conclusively, after interviewing many key government officials face-to-face last week, that it definitely ain't so simple anymore.
The people I met were extremely concerned with ethics and the moral obligations of their offices, and the higher up you went, the more concerned and committed they were. I'm no expert on Mexican politics, of course. In fact, I don't even pay much attention to U.S. politics. But last week in Mexico City, I got the clear impression I could see where the light at the end of the tunnel was coming from, and his name is Vicente Fox.
With the Revillagigedo Islands question apparently settled, for the moment at least, perhaps we should now set the record straight on one important matter. This is the very dubious claim that the San Diego long-range sport fishing fleet was depleting the yellowfin tuna population around the Revillagigedos Islands.
Some conservationists involved in this battle used deceptive, anecdotal internet demagoguery to further their cause; lies told for a noble purpose. In a senseless campaign to malign sport fishing at the Revillagigedos, one wrote: "This year alone over 2,500 anglers have been permitted to go there with licenses to take over 37,000 wahoo, 37,000 tuna, and 37,000 of every other fish species there." Huh?
According to figures tabulated by Sportfishing Association of California (SAC) President Bob Fletcher, the San Diego Fleet's 869 passengers during the 2000-2001 season landed only 5,852 tuna, 4,916 wahoo, and much fewer than 500 of other species. Even allowing for a lot of "slack" in fish counts, and a lot of other boats fishing at the islands, this is just a small fraction of the dishonest figures published on the internet, and only about 1/1,000th the commercial tuna catch recommended by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission for the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
We all need to remember that the real villain at the Revillagigedo Islands, and everywhere else, is commercial fishing, not sport fishing. San Diego's long-range boats were simply caught in the crossfire between the advocates of conservation and commercial fishing. To say anything else is pure humbug.
(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.")