By Gene Kira, Aug. 26, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
On August 23rd, the state of Baja California Sur scored another victory over the Mexican federal government's policy of short-sighted, self-destructive commercial fishing at any cost.
At a meeting held on the campus of the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur in La Paz, a noisy coalition of state government officials, conservationists, and tourism industry leaders cornered national fisheries representative Lic. Jose Luis Guerra Raya and convinced him to agree to the indefinite postponement of a universally-scorned "Shark Norma" law that would have opened Mexican waters to another onslaught of commercial over-fishing.
The new shark regulation, officially known as NORMA 029-2000, had been passed in Mexico City over the longstanding objections of conservationists and biologists, and would have become law on September 10. Under the guise of fishing for shark, its real purpose was to allow the virtually unmonitored "by-catch" of marlin, sailfish, tuna, wahoo, and dorado in Mexico's near coastal waters--as close as one kilometer from the beach.
In a Keystone Cops display of arrogant ineptitude, the Mexican Department of Fisheries, CONAPESCA, had touted the shark norma as an example of the country's commitment to conservation, and in particular, to global shark protection as proposed by the United Nations. In fact, President Fox and fisheries chief, Jeronimo Ramos, had intended to brandish the shark norma at this week's U.N. Sustainable Management meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Instead, the norma's lack of supporting science, its provisions for more long lines and even gill nets, and its obvious ulterior motive of increasing by-catch were exposed in a series of bitter meetings marked by the walking out of Ramos at one point, and the clearing of the room at another point in Mazatlan.
In the end, neither President Fox nor a livid Secretary of Agriculture Javier Usabiaga could support Ramos or the shark norma any further, and it was dropped.
Playing key roles in persuading the government to re-evaluate the shark norma were federal Secretary of Tourism Leticia Navarro, Undersecretary of Tourism Lic. Eduardo Barroso Alarcon, and Baja California Sur's Director of Tourism Bobby Van Wormer Jr. and Governor Leonel Cota Montaño, who worked in close coordination with the Mexican Billfish Foundation, Laura Coronado, President of the La Paz Hotel Association, and a host of senators and members of the federal and state congresses.
Credit must also be given to John Brakey and Tere Grossman of San Carlos, Sonora, and to the people of Loreto, who in some ways got the ball rolling at a heated meeting with Tourism Secretary Navarro, during which they made it abundantly clear that if the shark norma were passed, they would embarrass Mexico by disrupting the international Asian Pacific Economic Conference (APEC), scheduled in Cabo San Lucas during October.
Secretary Navarro took that message to President Fox, who is himself scheduled to attend that crucial conference. Fox was also met in Mexico City by Baja Sur Governor Montaño, who delivered a letter signed by virtually every influential person in the state demanding the rescission of the shark norma, and threatening to disrupt APEC with demonstrations comparable to those of the machete-waving farmers who recently blocked roads and forced Fox to abandon his pet airport project for Mexico City.
That must have been quite a scene!
All this is the logical continuation of a movement in Baja California Sur that gained nationwide attention last April when Bobby Van Wormer Jr. joined forces with local state congressman Carlos Montaño, brought television crews in from Mexico City, and forced the banning of local gill nets during a confrontation with federal officials in La Paz. Against all odds, that ban has held up through the summer, and it appears to be taking hold.
The real issue here is whether or not President Fox and Secretary Usabiaga will bring the Mexico's fisheries policies into alignment with worldwide conservation concerns. The President and Secretary of Agriculture--now under open and direct pressure from Baja California Sur--are finding it increasingly difficult to plead ignorance of past abuses, and they may be compelled to make needed fundamental changes in the Department of Fisheries.
In fact, the postponement of the shark norma agreed to in La Paz must now be formally drafted and made part of Mexican law by its publication in the official government document, Diaro Oficial. All of Baja California Sur is now waiting to see if Fox and Usabiaga will fulfill that promise, or if it's going to be "more of the same."
Soon enough, all of us will know.
(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.")