By Gene Kira, December 29, 2003, as published in Western Outdoor News:
A wave of euphoria swept through the Baja conservation community last week, in the wake of a watershed visit to La Paz and Cabo San Lucas by Mexico's newly appointed fisheries chief, Ramón Corral Ávila.
In a series of public and private meetings lasting far into the night, Corral Ávila broke new ground when he declared for the first time ever that the official policy of Conapesca would henceforth include:
--Banning of drift gillnets in all Mexican waters.
--Banning longlines inside 50 miles by boats longer than 27 feet.
--Banning of foreign factory ships from Mexican fishing waters.
--Banning "shark research" boats from taking dorado, billfish and other gamefish as "bycatch" inside 50 miles.
In other less explicit but equally welcome statements, Corral Ávila also indicated that Conapesca would look with more equanimity at such previously verboten notions as Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) which use satellites to record commercial boat locations, and the promulgation of a new shark norma that might be something other than a declaration of war on all marine life.
It did not escape the notice of the most concerned parties in the politically isolated, pro-conservation state of Baja California Sur that Mexico's new fisheries chief came to the mountain bearing not only conciliatory statements--unheard of before he took office at Conapesca--but that he also brought with him a significant contingent of his senior staff. This protocol, it was hoped, indicated that the head of Conapesca at the very least is paying close attention to the rancorous Baja Sur conservation lobby. Some even hoped that he may be lending it a sincere and sympathetic ear.
If true, that would be a positive, revolutionary shift of the federal government's center of gravity on marine conservation issues, an unprecedented paradigm shift away from scorched earth, short term commercial fishing, and toward conservation and sustainable management of the resource.
But how much of that, if any, can really come to pass?
Despite the self-congratulatory tone of some news releases and internet chatter last week, cooler heads in Mexico were looking at the harsh realities of what is politically feasible.
Otto Von Bismarck called politics "the art of the possible," but despite Corral Ávila's apparently good intentions, perhaps John Kenneth Galbraith's even less hopeful definition fits better: "Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable."
Or indeed, in our case, perhaps the disastrous and unpalatable. As one highly-placed source in Mexico said last week, "Baja California Sur is the only state in Mexico that cares about conservation, because it is the only state whose economy is based on sportfishing and tourism. In every other state, even Baja California, the northern state, nobody, and I mean nobody, gives a damn."
As evidence of this statement's veracity, I offer the city of Ensenada, gateway to Mex 1 and the Baja California peninsula, which has become, as the Mexicans say, an Ali-Baba's Cave, a port of convenience for foreign ships plundering the Mexican coast with gillnets and longlines. Or, the state of Sinaloa, overwhelmed by outlaw shrimp pangas, or the city of Acapulco, whose public fish markets are filled to overflowing with sailfish--stacked like cordwood, every morning, everywhere you look.
It was against this political backdrop that Ramón Corral Ávila made his recent pro-conservation declarations at La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. One fervently hopes that the new head of Conapesca can actually deliver even just a portion of what he appeared to offer. Even that much would be an auspicious beginning of a new era of sustained, coordinated management of Mexico's marine resources for the equitable benefit of all its citizens.
Those who care about the future of Mexico's seas now have a golden opportunity to follow up on Ramón Corral Ávila's potentially earth-changing initiative. Who knows? With continued work and dedication from both sides, perhaps this art may be possible after all.
(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.")