By Gene Kira, Sept. 30 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
It was an all-out campaign last week, as the Mexican Department of Fisheries (CONAPESCA) was politically and operationally beseiged--from San Felipe to Cabo San Lucas, and from La Paz to Mexico City.
At San Felipe, top PROFEPA enforcement officials Diana Ponce and Luis Fueyo arrived from Mexico City and hammered down the provisions of an Emergency Norma (NORMA Oficial Mexicana de Emergencia NOM-EM-139-ECOL-2002), published only days earlier, that kicked all shrimp trawlers completely out of the Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve.
With muscle provided by the Navy, at least two trawlers were confiscated, and the rest of the illegal fleet was chased over to the Sonora coast. One of the trawlers was slated to become "PROFEPA toast," since endangered totuaba were found in its hold (big-time penalties for endangered species).
Significantly, these commercial trawlers carried CONAPESCA fishing permits, which they had been using to shield themselves from laws prohibiting such fishing inside Mexico's biosphere reserves. PROFEPA's action made it clear that such illegal practices will no longer be permitted; the closing of Alto Golfo was legally analogous to the closing of the Revillagigedo Islands earlier this year.
In Mexico City, the national uproar over CONAPESCA's disastrous Shark Norma 029-2002 climbed another rung nearer to the office of the presidency. Jose Campillo, Attorney General for the Department of Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), was quoted as stating that the Shark Norma was the result of prior agreements between CONAPESCA and the large commercial fishing fleets. Campillo added that CONAPESCA had unsuccessfully pressured him to endorse the Norma--despite environmental concerns--because of these prior agreements. His bombshell shook the central federal bureaucracy to its roots, because it appeared to suggest the possibility of accusations of impropriety coming from very close to the cabinet level.
In fact, another cabinet minister was quoted off the record last week as angrily stating that he had been duped by CONAPESCA into supporting the Shark Norma, and never would have agreed to it had he been aware of its environmental problems.
Although the Shark Norma is currently suspended--and President Fox himself has promised that it will not be passed without ameliorating amendments--as recently as two weeks ago, Secretary of Agriculture Javier Usabiaga was still testifying before Congress that he felt the Norma was acceptable in its present form.
Just a short time ago, that statement and similar ones by Usabiaga's CONAPESCA chief, Jeronimo Ramos, would have caused near panic among Mexico's conservationists.
But now, it is being felt more and more that the Shark Norma is a waterloo for Ramos, and that even Usabiaga himself may be in danger if he persists too long in backing his CONAPESCA chief.
With virtually the entire population of Baja California Sur, the vast majority of the national electorate, the press, the Senate, the Navy, PROFEPA, and the federal departments of Tourism, Natural Resources, and the Economy all weighing in against the Norma, it is widely assumed that both Usabiaga and President Fox hear the whistling of the axe. It is assumed that Ramos will be made a sacrificial scapegoat as true reforms are implemented, even if "prior agreements" with the fishing fleets must be violated.
The successes are mounting. U.S. national media are finally picking up the story. People are getting excited. Graffiti is appearing on the streets. At one recent meeting in La Paz, I was shocked to see a nationally-known political activist come walking up to an outdoor restaurant IN HIS BARE FEET, as he waded across the flooded streets! Even a tropical downpour was not going to keep him from coming to this meeting!
With the crucial Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Cabo San Lucas only a few weeks away, Baja's conservation community is now girding its loins for battle royal. Everyone is well aware of the dangers of not ramming the blade to the hilt--now.
Stand by for some brilliant propaganda maneuvers during APEC. And stand by for the publication of a document tentatively titled the "La Paz Accords," which is intended to be a watershed statement of doctrine that will guide Mexico to its final victory in its struggle toward sustainable management of its miraculous seas.
(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.")