By Gene Kira, Oct. 7, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
For anyone who's ever watched the wasteful carnage that occurs when the crew of a shrimp trawler picks through the sea life brought up in its nets, last week's detention of the Chavito III at Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico, was a case of "suspicions confirmed."
The Chavito III was one of a fleet of Sonora and Sinaloa shrimp boats caught up in PROFEPA's sudden enforcement of Mexican fisheries laws prohibiting trawlers inside the Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve, which includes all of the Sea of Cortez north of a line drawn between San Felipe and Puerto Peñasco (also known as "Rocky Point").
The ruling environmental law, Ley General del Equilibrio Ecológico y la Protección al Ambiente (LGEEPA) says that no fishing is allowed inside the Biosphere Reserve except by local people who were living there when it was established on June 10, 1993. That clearly rules out the fleets of trawlers that have been entering to fish, either without permits, or with illegal permits issued by the Department of Fisheries (CONAPESCA).
In the bitter war of words between Mexico's big fleet owners ("We aren't doing any damage at all, you damned tree-huggers!") and an army of conservation groups ("You greedy morons! You're killing everything!"), there is almost always one key element missing: hard fact.
The reason for this is quite simple. CONAPESCA hides data with the same fanatic care that a mother hen hides her chicks from the coyotes.
How many commercial shrimp trawlers were actually fishing inside the Biosphere Reserve? Nobody really knows.
How many Ensenada long-liners are fishing in the Marlin Core Zone off southern Baja? Nope, again.
How many commercial pangas are fishing the Sea of Cortez? Five-thousand? Ten-thousand? Twenty-thousand? ¡Quién sabe!
Probably, the most ludicrous example of this self-imposed information blackout has been in the case of the so-called "observers" placed aboard sea-going commercial fishing ships. The record of these supposedly impartial fishing referees has been a remarkable case of "seeing only what you're supposed to see."
But, let's get back to the confiscated "shrimp" trawler Chavito III, as it sits rusting and waiting for fines to be imposed at Puerto Peñasco. This case is very interesting, because, for once, we have some hard numbers available, and that's why the quotation marks around the word "shrimp" are appropriate for the preceding sentence.
Here's what PROFEPA found on the Chavito III: 15 kilos of shrimp, 12 juvenile totoaba averaging only 25 cm long, and 300 kilos of "incidental fish."
Estimating a 25 cm totoaba to weigh maybe .3 kilos, this means that the Chavito III's take was composed of more than 95 percent by-catch.
Repeat, more than 95 percent by-catch, and that's not counting what was thrown overboard as unmarketable.
Granted, one boat is a suspiciously small sample. But at least it's a sample. And this, repeat, does not even take into consideration the quantity of unmarketable sea life that was thrown overboard during the culling process.
Watching this culling aboard a shrimp boat is truly sickening. The head-high pile of sea life is dumped on the deck and the crew digs through, looking for shrimp. Dead animals and fish of every description are thrown over the side, bucket after bucket. Every now and then, someone finds a shrimp.
Actually, the era of uncontrolled shrimp trawling is drawing to a close, as the wild stock is reduced below the level of profitability, and farmed shrimp takes over the market.
Of even greater immediate concern is the tremendous by-catch that would be killed by the near-shore gill nets and long lines proposed in CONAPESCA's hotly disputed Shark Norma 029-2002.
Completely ignoring the troublesome fact that the sharks themselves are in big trouble, CONAPESCA says there is no by-catch problem at all. But until that highly-questionable claim can be verified with hard, honest, public data, it would be foolish to take chances, and that's why Mexico's proposed Shark Norma is such a big, big problem.
(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.")