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Mexican Fishing License Games



By Gene Kira, November 3, 2003, as published in Western Outdoor News:

About three months ago, an email arrived from a Baja angler who had been briefly detained and questioned by U.S. officials at the airport in San Diego, when he returned with an ice chest full of fish, but no Mexican fishing license. His fish was not confiscated, and he was let off with a warning, but he was extremely upset that U.S. officials would "hassle" him about sport fishing regulations in another country, since, he said, it was "none of their business."

Shortly thereafter, a mainland Mexico resident who fishes regularly got the same treatment, even though he's been returning with undocumented fish for the past twenty years. "Should I consider getting a license?" he asked.

And last week, a group of about a dozen anglers experienced the same delay and questioning, even through they had paid a hotel in Baja for their Mexican fishing licenses (but did not actually receive the paperwork, and therefore had no licenses in possession upon arrival at the airport.)

This is a touchy subject with some sport fishing operations in Mexico, who sometimes charge their clients for "Mexican fishing licenses," but don't actually obtain them. This system can work pretty smoothly, for two possible reasons: 1. There is no local Conapesca official to enforce the regulations. 2. There is a local official, but he's either incompetent or he's being paid off, or both.

The irrefutable logic cited by sport fishing operators for this practice is that in some locations it is practically impossible to obtain real licenses anyway. And, of course, the need to pay off "the local Conapesca official"--whether or not he actually exists--certainly justifies collecting a little something from the client for that purpose.

In a sense, these payments actually are for Mexican fishing licenses--of a sort--since you could not fish without them, but they are for local, verbal, gentleman's-agreement licenses, not the federally-printed kind.

Of course, it doesn't hurt a bit that part of the money paid by the client might stay with the sport fishing fleet. At one location I visited on mainland Mexico, the standard hotel "fishing license" charge was $10 per day, only $5 of which was paid to the local Conapesca official. For two days of fishing, this is a win-win-win situation, since the minimum charge for real paperwork would be $22.90 for a one week license. For two days, the client saves $2.90, the fleet makes $10, and the Conapesca guy pockets the other $10. ¡Feliz Navidad!

For three contiguous days of fishing under this system, you would pay more than the price of a one-week license. However, if you fish on three days separated by more than a week, you would save money compared to the $32.80 fee for a genuine monthly license. For four, widely separated days, you're still better off, compared to the $42.70 annual license.

It all kinda makes sense, don't it?

The fact that the federal government is losing millions of dollars per year in license revenues doesn't seem to have set off any alarm bells in Mexico City, so what the heck? Who cares?

Ironically, it now seems that the U.S. cares. Perhaps it has something to do with increased security after 9/11, but for whatever reason, U.S. officials--at least in some cases--have made an issue of the age-old requirement that if you return with fish, you need to be able to show that it was legally caught (sport fishing license), or legally bought (receipt).

With Mexican enforcement so wildly unpredictable, and with the possibility of questions when you reenter the U.S., now more than ever, anyone who fishes in Mexico should have a genuine license, and that includes fishing from shore (yes, I've been asked to show a license when surf fishing).

It's more reliable to buy your license before you go, at Vagabundos, Discover Baja, some tackle stores and booking agents, or the San Diego Conapesca office (619-233-6956). If you do buy your license in Mexico, be sure you actually receive it, and hold onto it, at least until you're back in the U.S.

(Related Mexico articles and reports may be found at'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.")