By Gene Kira, December 1, 2003, as published in Western Outdoor News:
This September, Mexico's ruthlessly anti-conservation fisheries chief, Jerónimo Ramos, was finally ousted and replaced as head of Conapesca by Ramón Corral Ávila, a PAN party senator, businessman, and former gubernatorial candidate from the state of Sonora.
The departure of the widely-detested Ramos was immediately followed by a lot of speculation among Mexicans that perhaps President Fox had decided to reverse course during his final three years in office. Perhaps, they hoped, Ramos' sacking was a sign that Mexican fisheries policy would at last turn away from its course of "kill everything that swims" for the short-term benefit of its out-of-date commercial fleets.
Since that time, the normally vocal conservation lobby centered in La Paz has been silent and passive, as it has tested the waters and held its fire, pending some signal from the new fisheries chief about which way the Conapesca winds will now blow.
Well, last week, the formidable Julio Berdegué of Mazatlán, declared the truce period over by firing an email broadside at Conapesca's offshore licensing policies, and specifically, at the number of boats now being allowed to fish with long lines and drift gill nets.
Titled, "Permits to fish pelagic fishes with gill nets and long lines," Don Julio's damning message was sent to nearly 200 recipients in government, academia, and in the conservation community. It contained some startling numbers obtained with great difficulty by a resourceful and very knowledgeable private citizen in Mexico, despite the stonewalling of Conapesca, which has intentionally created a black hole of information designed to keep the opposition confused and at bay.
Don Julio described the struggle to obtain this information during the past several years:
"Among many other things, we were protesting the number of oceanic fishing boats with gill nets and long lines that were registered in Mexico for swordfish, sharks, and other pelagic migratory species. The numbers never matched. The Chamber had one list, the Government another, and nobody knew how many boats were actually fishing in Mexican waters."
Here, supported by a boat-by-boat tabulation that accompanied Don Julio's message, is what has happened, and what continues to happen today under the new Conapesca chief:
--In mid-2002, Conapesca admitted to 32 boats fishing with long lines and gill nets, including 17 with permits that had already expired or were about to expire.
--Today, 49 boats are admitted, including 12 boats whose permits have already expired. In addition to the added boats, all of the boats from the old list have had their permits extended.
--These boats have a total capacity of over 77 kilometers of gill nets and 1,750 miles of long lines.
Here's a very bad Mexican fishing joke:
All of these boats are continuing to capture protected dorado, marlin, sailfish, sharks, turtles, whales, birds, seals, and everything else that swims, as bycatch, not with actual fishing permits, but with open-ended "research permits" granted by the Conapesca-controlled Instituto Nacional de la Pesca (INP). What is the official objective of this research? To determine which is more harmful, long lines or gill nets!!!
As Don Julio puts it: "The only thing we can expect from these people is to give permits for dynamite to see which of the three fishing methods is least destructive.
"When we were finally able to get Jerónimo Ramos fired, some believed that everything was going to get better. DEFINITELY NOTHING HAS CHANGED, and as long as Compean and the INP are free to do what they want, they will not stop until the last fish has disappeared from Mexican waters."
Sadly, despite the departure of Jerónimo Ramos, it seems to be business as usual at Conapesca.
(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.")