Mexico's 30-Mile Fishing Problem Logo
Mexico's 30-Mile Fishing Problem



By Gene Kira, March 29, 2004, as orginally published in Western Outdoor News:

Last week, this column described how the U.S. conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife has disrupted the amendment process for Mexico’s Shark Norma 029 by accepting the notion of longline commercial fishing ships to within 30 miles of the coast--which would permit them to fish inside the Sea of Cortez.

In that column, I said that during a recent meeting at Los Cabos, Javier Usabiaga, Mexico’s Minister of Agriculture, Ranching, Rural Development, Fishing, and Food Production (SAGARPA), had exploited Defenders of Wildlife’s position to help justify a probable 30-mile national policy.

That was during a period when thousands of emails were being sent to the Mexican federal government, protesting the 30-mile limit and Defenders of Wildlife’s acceptance of it. Under pressure, Defenders of Wildlife circulated a “Letter to Colleagues” last Thursday in which they said:

“Contrary to a statement by Gene Kira in Western Outdoor News, it is not true that agriculture and fisheries minister Javier Usabiaga said recently that ‘an American NGO’ was supporting the 30-mile limit. When Defenders provided a copy of Mr. Kira’s opinion piece to the ministry, they responded that the issue of the 30-mile limit was never discussed at the meeting Kira mentions, and that the minister made no references to the 30-mile limit or to ‘American NGOs.’”

Ooooo, boy, did that tickle my funny bone.

This statement sadly confirms Defenders of Wildlife’s continuing credulity with regards to the real world of Mexican commercial fishing politics. There is no way Usabiaga could admit in public to being influenced by gringos. Of course they denied it.

The fact is that the exact phrase “Defenders of Wildlife” was used at least twice, perhaps three times, in the moments before Usabiaga spoke during this closed meeting, and the 30-mile limit was explicitly referred to as well. Although he spoke indirectly, there was absolutely no misunderstanding of Usabiaga’s meaning.

But what’s really going on here?

Defenders of Wildlife persists in denying the ugly fact that SAGARPA lacks the will to enforce even its present fisheries laws. Defenders of Wildlife repeatedly implies that such things as Vessel Monitoring Systems and human observer programs can compel SAGARPA to begin enforcing the law. For example:

“NOM 029 would close down the worst of these activities almost immediately, and place real and meaningful constraints on the others...”

¿Qué? This is ludicrously naive. SAGARPA is not going to magically transform its culture just because of some fancy new shark norma. SAGARPA already has plenty of laws that it ignores. Defenders of Wildlife apparently does not appreciate what a total, chaotic, out of control longlining mess a 30-mile norma would perpetuate inside the Sea of Cortez.

And even worse, continuing disrespect for this 30-mile limit would have a cascading effect, helping to preserve Mexico’s present lack of control over trawling, gill nets, bycatch, totoaba poaching, turtle deaths, whale deaths, panga longliners, commercial divers, and reef traps.

Defenders of Wildlife’s weak justification for 30 miles is that there is no present legal or scientific basis for 50 miles (which would protect the Sea of Cortez), and besides, 30 miles is better than the 12-mile bargaining chip tossed on the table by the commercial fishing lobby. Therefore--in order to win other types of concessions contained elsewhere in the norma--they would compromise at 30 miles and accept longlining inside the Sea of Cortez. This is precisely the open door that the Puerto Peñasco-Guaymas-Mazatlán fleets want!

This submissive deal-bargaining conveniently ignores the fact that there is no legal or scientific basis for 30 miles either! Hey! Pick a number! And give it away!

The problem with a 30-mile limit is that--with ships running around night and day inside the Sea of Cortez--it would take an armada of inspectors to enforce it. And not only that, they would have to be honest inspectors. Where are they to come from? SAGARPA?

The lack of rigor in Defenders of Wildlife’s reasoning was made clear in last week’s letter, as they were forced into some quick backpedaling:

“...Defenders is willing to propose to Mexican authorities that an additional provision be added to NOM 029, which would temporarily close the Gulf to medium-sized vessels until there is sufficient scientific information on the shark populations to demonstrate that additional fishing effort can be sustained. Until this evidence could be provided, the Gulf would remain closed to medium-sized vessels.”

This kind of fence-straddling isn’t nearly good enough. Because of the continuing chaos 30 miles would bring, the Sea of Cortez needs 50 miles etched in stone. Period.

At this supremely critical moment in the history of marine conservation, and both commercial and sportfishing in Mexico, everyone who values the Sea of Cortez should draw a line across the water, here and now, from Cabo San Lucas to Mazatlán. Any ship caught longlining north of that line gets confiscated!

That is honest, simple, clear, direct, and most of all, enforceable in the real world. That much we can do--with the Navy and the coming Guardianes del Mar. That would be a true beginning which could start a chain reaction for all the good things to follow in the rest of Mexico’s beautiful seas.

And...the hope of that wonderful vision is why the 30-mile limit is simply wrong.

(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.")