March 15, 2003, by Gene Kira, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Last year, a fishing report circulated through the Mexico sportfishing grapevine about a group of Americans--25 or 30 of them--who went to the Sea of Cortez for a week and killed more than 1,000 dorado. Many of you probably know some of these so-called “sport fishermen.” I call them something else.
When this report first surfaced, I assumed it was a typo or some other breakdown in communications, and anticipating a denial or retraction, I phoned the well-known U.S. tour promoter involved. I almost grabbed my ankles when he said (proudly) that, yes, over 1,000 dorado had actually been killed on this trip.
“Do you know what the bag limit is for dorado?” I asked.
In a completely serious voice, he replied, “Dorado are a migratory fish. There is no limit in Mexico.”
Before we go any further, amigos, let’s get something straight. There is a limit.
The Mexican sportfishing limit on dorado is two fish per day, and you can only have three days’ catch in possession. Therefore, with 30 anglers on this trip, the combined maximum legal take would have been 180 dorado, not 1,000-plus.
Even allowing for some number-padding by the charter promoter, these American tourists must have come back with at least four or five times their legal limits. It doesn’t matter whether the promoter was grossly ignorant or just a plain liar; he admitted that as far as he knew, this overkill had actually happened, and he was fine with it.
As a final check into the authenticity of this report, I called the Mexican charter fishing operator involved, and again, the numbers were confirmed; more than 1,000 dorado were brought home by this group of tourist anglers.
It should be noted here that dorado do not keep well unless they are bled and iced down within minutes and frozen quickly. Under the hot weather conditions of this trip, I knew that many of the fillets produced must have been of very low quality. Cat food. Certainly nothing that you’d want to have a few hundred pounds of in your freezer. When I asked why anyone would bring back so much low-class garbage, I was told that most of the fish were given away, and it was even admitted that some were sold.
That made it even worse. It is illegal to sell sport-caught fish in Mexico. The Mexican Department of Fisheries is looking for any excuse it can to suppress sport fishing, and its assertion that some sport fishing boats are nothing more than commercial fishing boats in disguise is one of their favorite arguments. Stories like 1,000 dorado killed, and even a small fraction of it sold, are potentially very damaging to the future of sport fishing in Mexico.
Unfortunately, this was far from a unique incident. Although over-limits are taken of all species, this is especially true of dorado, simply because they are the easiest, dumbest fish in the ocean to catch. A feeding school of dorado is the very definition of “wide-open.” They aren’t called “do-do’s” for nothing. There is no skill required. Easy dorado over-limits can be caught by any idiot, and they are often tolerated and even encouraged by charter operators all over Mexico in order to please their American clients.
And that’s where the real problem lies. To quote the immortal Pogo’s travesty of American naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry: “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”
As in the drug trade, this traffic only happens if somebody’s buying it, and that’s us, amigos. We’re the people writing the checks and holding our garbage cans out. It hurts, but there’s no denying it.
The only way such practices will ever end is for all of us help raise the philosophy of sport fishing to a higher state, where “success” isn’t measured by the number of fish killed--especially by inexperienced tourists caught up in the excitement of first blood.
It is also important to accept the painful fact that sport-caught fish in Mexico are very, very expensive per pound, compared to the prices one pays in a supermarket or even at a fancy restaurant. At many Mexican locations, a day’s fishing in a panga will cost over $200 for the boat, bait, and tips. With two anglers catching their limits (two dorado each), that comes to a heady $50 per fish--and twice that if you’re fishing on a cruiser.
One-hundred dollars for a single dorado? Obviously, the fundamental concept of charter sport fishing does not depend on its cost effectiveness in terms of dollars per pound. Instead, the value of sport fishing is in the experience, the beauty of the day, the challenge of the hunt--and a wonderful bonus of a reasonable amount of well-cared-for, high-quality fish brought home.
Ironically, the two-dorado limit itself is one of the dumbest regulations ever promulgated by a Mexican Department of Fisheries that seems to write dumb regulations with compulsive regularity. (But that’s another story entirely. Don’t get me started.) Dorado are one of the most prolific, fastest-growing animals on the entire planet, and if there is one species that can stand a lot more sport fishing pressure, they are it. As an example, a newly hatched dorado egg grows into a 20-inch fish in only six months. And only six months after that, it is sexually mature at three feet long. It dies of old age no later than its fourth birthday, at a weight of up to about 90 pounds.
Yet, under Mexican sport fishing regulations, you are allowed only two dorado, but up to five of, say, slow-growing giant black seabass than can be close to a century old.
Dumb. Real dumb.
But really, that’s not the point. As sport anglers, we should be focusing on the finer aesthetic aspects of our pursuit, not obsessing on limits and body counts.
People who’ve been with me in a boat have seen me put my rod down in the middle of a bite, and they’ve wondered why. The reason is that I stop when I’ve reached my Mexican limit, no matter how illogical it might be. Sometimes I stop even before then, because we’re fishing deep and I don’t want to accidentally kill more than I can eat. I’ll even stop making mackerel live bait when I’ve caught five, the general limit on single species.
It’s a very small gesture in the big scheme of things, and you might argue that it makes no difference to the planet or to the sea and the life within it. But to me, it makes all the difference.
(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.")