By Gene Kira, Nov. 18, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Last week in front of the Marina Office of Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico, there was an awesome wagon train of big yellowfin tuna brought to the scales of the 2002 Western Outdoor News/Mercury Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament; more than 40 fish of over 100 pounds were weighed or caught, including 3 fish over 200 pounds and the tournament winner of 256 pounds. The top ten fish averaged an amazing 188.6 pounds.
That's a lot of quality tuna, but even so, as we watched them come in, one after another, I found my thoughts were drifting out past the marina entrance, over the horizon, and a couple of hundred miles south to Mexico's remote Revillagigedos Islands--the Promised Land of big tuna for San Diego's famed long-range sport fishing boats.
Those islands--Socorro, Clarion, San Benedicto, and Roca Partida--were closed to Mexico sport fishing in March of this year, when agents of PROFEPA, Mexico's natural resources enforcement agency, boarded the San Diego boats Red Rooster III and Shogun, and began enforcing the Mexican law known as LGEEPA (Ley General del Equilibrio Ecológico y la Protección al Ambiente). The Revillagigedo archipelago was made a protected Biosphere Reserve in 1994, and according to LGEEPA, no one may fish there except local residents, and even they may fish only outside the Biosphere Reserve's Nucleus Zones, which extend about 6 nautical miles out from each island.
Since the closure to both sport and commercial boats, the San Diego-based Sportfishing Association of California (SAC) has lobbied to resume fishing at the Revillagigedos, but it seems that the legal and political obstacles have not been completely overcome as of this writing.
That's a shame, for according to some sources in the Mexican federal government, there is a realization that the SAC boats were probably doing little if any ecological damage to the islands, and there might conceivably be acceptance of controlled sport fishing inside the Biosphere Reserve if certain conditions were present, most of them involving the initiation of a direct dialogue with the principal agencies involved, leading to amendment of the existing law.
For instance, one of the major stumbling blocks to any successful resolution of the island closure is the LGEEPA requirement that anybody who fishes there must be a resident. Obviously, the only people actually living at the Revillagigedo Islands are the members of the small Navy detachment stationed there.
However, a thousand miles to the north is the Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve surrounding the mouth of the Colorado River at the head of the Sea of Cortez--also the scene of a recent closure by PROFEPA. At the Alto Golfo, the communities of San Felipe and Puerto Peñasco are being allowed to fish inside the Biosphere Reserve, even though those towns are outside the legal boundaries. This is because during the establishment of the Alto Golfo Biosphere Reserve the people of San Felipe and Puerto Peñasco demonstrated that they were dependent on fishing there, and they were grandfathered in.
Could the San Diego fleet claim the Alto Golfo case as a legal precedent? I don't know, but there seem to be some similarities.
The other major stumbling block is the question of how to fish not only inside the Revillagigedos Biosphere Reserve, but also inside the Nucleus Zones that surround each island. These Nucleus Zones go out about 6 nautical miles, and if you can't fish any closer that that, you're not fishing at the islands anyway.
According to LGEEPA, there can be no fishing whatsoever inside the Nucleus Zones. However, there might be a possibility of amending LGEEPA to allow some controlled fishing, not for resident fish, but for highly migratory species (such as yellowfin tuna) only, even inside the Nucleus Zones.
That would require a thorough biological study to determine that the islands' population of tuna actually is highly migratory, something that has been contested in the past, especially by divers.
The legal obstacles to sport fishing at the Revillagigedos are thought by some to be manageable, if a commitment is made to establish a sound scientific basis for whatever activities are requested, and if established legal channels are followed.
Whatever happens, it must be remembered that SAC is not the only entity lobbying for reentry. The commercial fishing industry, represented by CANAINPESCA, also wants to fish at the Revillagigedos. If Mexico is to allow the resumption of sport fishing at the islands, it must find a way to do so without reopening the floodgates to the longliners, and that's a very, very hot political potato indeed.
Once again, the best solution is thought to be the collection of sound scientific data as the basis for amendment of the applicable law.
(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.")