By Gene Kira, Oct. 14, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Mexico's proposed commercial fisheries regulation, Shark Norma 029-2000, is finito. Kaput. Squashed like a cucaracha by the boot heel of President Vicente Fox himself.
As revolutions go, the actual moment came rather quietly last week, with the printing of a brief 600-word statement in Mexico's official government publication, Diario Oficial, dated October 11, 2002.
But don't forget that date, for it marks the biggest victory ever in Mexico's intramural struggle to protect all of its sea life, and to harvest it commercially in a logical and sustainable way that will ensure its benefits for future generations.
To the last second, the norma was defended by stonewalling and obfuscation from CONAPESCA, the discredited Mexican Department of Fisheries. As recently as Oct. 2, fisheries chief Jeronimo Ramos came to Los Barriles and stunned local officials by stating during a closed meeting at the Hotel Palmas de Cortez that the Shark Norma would be published in its original form.
Subsequently, Mexican fisheries officials and biologists seemed to confirm Ramos' betrayal of agreements made earlier in La Paz and by phone only days before. It looked like a classic knife in the back.
But then, on the morning of Oct. 8, Armageddon fell upon Ramos' head, when full-page advertisements exploded in national newspapers all across Mexico. The text of these ads both criticized the Shark Norma and defended the policies of Mexican Secretary of Natural Resources, Victor Lichtinger, who recently closed the Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve to shrimp trawlers that were destroying the sea bottom and killing totoabas and vaquita dolphins, of which there are only about 500 left.
But much more telling than the actual text of these ads was the overwhelming roster of high-profile signatures below them. Among the scores of names and organizations were the cream of Mexican business, society, academia, government, and--in what must have been a personal blow to Ramos--even a long list of commercial fishing cooperativas from the Alto Golfo! The very mouths that CONAPESCA had cultivated with "closed eyes" for decades were fed up and turning to bite!
Sen. Veronica Velasco, who questioned Sec. Usabiaga very intensely on both the Alto Golfo closure and the Shark Norma. Photo courtesy Press Room, Mexican Senate.
By 5 p.m. that same day, the stage was set for a brutal grilling of Ramos' boss, Javier Usabiaga, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (SAGARPA), during a requested appearance before the Senate in Mexico City. Under extreme pressure from Sen. Veronica Velasco, Usabiaga finally uttered the key words. In unofficial translation of the Senate's stenographic record, Usabiaga said: "...obeying the mandate of the President...we are studying the legal process for revocation of the norma...so that once and for all the fear is eliminated that we will impose a norma at the cost of the tranquility of our country."
Less than 72 hours later, Shark Norma 029-2000 was revoked in Diario Oficial, making the recent Los Barriles statements of fisheries chief Jeronimo Ramos look like those of someone who was not even in the information loop of his own agency. To restore its credibility before the federal government, it would seem that a complete, top-to-bottom housecleaning may be required at CONAPESCA.
So, where does Mexico go from here?
As a show of respect and gratitude to President Fox, one would assume that this month's APEC conference will be relatively free of any ugly demonstrations against CONAPESCA that might have been planned. Fox has proven that when it comes to fisheries, he's got the cojones to do what's right and make it stick.
Next, it can hardly be forgotten that the basic policy of CONAPESCA and its parent agency, SAGARPA, is still all-out commercial fishing at any cost, as illustrated by this ludicrously short-sighted statement attributed to a high SAGARPA official: "I have one interest and only one in SAGARPA, and that is to produce food for the hungry people of Mexico. The protection of the vaquitas, the reefs, the sharks and all the other nonsense of the ecologists, a bunch of people that have nothing else to do except create problems for the producers of food, should be the concern of Mr. Lichtinger and SEMARNAT."
The recent conservation victories have been truly revolutionary: Revillagigedos, East Cape gill nets, Alto Golfo, and Shark Norma 029-2000. But now, in addition to keeping the public eye on SAGARPA, a new and proper Shark Norma must be drafted, and keen attention must be focused where it is most critically needed: 1. Los Cabos offshore bajos (Gordo Banks, Jaime, and Golden Gate). 2. Bahia Magdalena. 3. Loreto Marine Park. 4. Sea of Cortez archipelago.
More to come...
Sec. Javier Usabiaga, right, being questioned by the Senate in Mexico City. Photo courtesy Press Room, Mexican Senate.