By Gene Kira, October 13, 2003, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Of the many conservationists working to protect Mexico's sea life, and its sportfishing, and tourism industries, none is more outspoken or more respected than Don Julio Berdegué of Mazatlán.
Don Julio was born in Madrid on April 14, 1931, and his father was a physician in the Spanish Civil War. After his family moved to Mexico City, Don Julio began a fantastic career as a businessman, hotelier, and marine biologist that included working with Dr. Boyd W. Walker of UCLA to produce the first taxonomic study of the endangered totoaba in the early 1950s.
By 1962, Don Julio had built and sold Mexico's largest commercial shrimp fleet, and by 1994, he had built the marble-lined El Cid Mega Resort in Mazatlán, Mexico's largest independent resort, with its own marina, 1,200 rooms, four hotels, two golf courses, a sea turtle nursery, a 1,000-home housing development, and the Aries Fleet sportfishing operation. He is a true Renaissance Man, with a bitingly satirical sense of humor and an intellect broad enough to discuss the subtler points of Japanese etiquette, or to appreciate the writings of Gabriel García Márquez in English or Spanish. (In his spare time, he is now busying himself with building another resort complex in Cancún.)
Because of his heavy-duty, insider knowledge of biology, commercial fishing, and large scale tourism, Julio Berdegué is one conservationist who cannot be swept under the carpet, and because of his very strong personal character, he is willing to speak forcefully when others falter. Recently, Don Julio published a personal statement of disgust with Mexico's marine conservational policies that was startlingly frank, even for him.
This statement by one of the most respected men in Mexico is notable for its honestly, it's direct and patent criticism of the government's policies, and most of all the courage of Don Julio Berdegué to speak out while many others are more concerned with covering their backsides . Here is Don Julio's complaint, unedited and in its entirety:
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"We have begun to see the results of the firing by President Fox two weeks ago of Mr. Lichtinger, Secretary of SEMARNAT, as well as Under Secretary Raul Arriaga Becerra and Director of PROFEPA, Lic. Jose I. Campillo.
"The fight between Lichtinger, who tried hard to protect the whales and the forests, the reefs, the reserved zones of the Biosphere in Mexico, etc., against the Secretary of Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries Javier Usabiaga, resulted in an absolute knock out for Mr. Lichtinger.
"We knew Lichtinger was bound for disaster. Usabiaga is probably the closest friend in the Cabinet of Mr. Fox. Now, tell me ¡What is new in Mexico! and I can tell you: Absolutely nothing. Friends and Contributors of the Politicians regardless of their ineptitude, are still preferred to a well known Scientist trying to do a good job.
"Today, the Fishery Commission opened the shrimp season allowing the capture of shrimp with trawlers in the open seas. They included the area in the Alto Golfo of the Mar de Cortes, that was closed to fishing last year in an effort to protect the 60 remaining vaquitas.
"Big win for the Armadores of the Camara Pesquera, especially those of Sonora, Peñasco, Guaymas and San Felipe, and Baja California. A very sad day for all of us who have tried so hard to prevent fishing in this and other protected areas.
"Now, they can again fish until extinction the vaquita, the totoaba, and several other endemic species. Soon, they will be followed by the Revillagigedo Archipelago and all the others.
"Shame on Mr. Usabiaga. He probably will now go to the FAO, International Tuna Commissions, and other Scientific bodies claiming the tremendous efforts of Mexico to protect our whales, billfishes, and pelagic migratory species, and other similar lies." --Julio Berdegue.