By Gene Kira, Feb. 11, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
We didn't eat it.
The sea turtle in question was our guest of honor--greenish-grey and kind of dry looking, trussed up like a Christmas turkey, with old, quarter-inch polyethylene rope, and sitting forlornly in the back of a pickup.
On Saturday, a group of about twenty of us were having a margarita-lubricated lunch at the Tetakawi ("Goat Teats," but that's another story) restaurant on the waterfront of the stunningly beautiful San Carlos marina, on mainland Mexico, in the state of Sonora just a few miles up the coast from Guaymas.
Our human guest of honor was Luis Fueyo, Mexico's highest authority in its PROFEPA federal agency on the protection of the marine environment, and the lunch conversation got a little heated at one point on the subject of regulations enforcement. Some people at the table had the temerity to suggest that maybe, once in a rare while, Mexican fisheries enforcement might leave a little something to be desired.
Fueyo, an honorable gentleman of education and good breeding, sat calmly at the table, as the storm raged around him. After all, in Mexico he is "The Man," and if he couldn't be convinced of what many see as a hopeless disregard for the law, then well, the situation really was hopeless.
Suddenly, Rubén Pinto, head of the San Carlos Chamber of Commerce, had an inspiration. "How hard do you think it is to buy a sea turtle?" he asked, knowing that the endangered and super-sensitive caguama is a biggest no-no of all. "You can buy a sea turtle any time you want. There is no protection."
To prove his point, Pinto drove off in his pickup, and in less than five minutes, he returned, and in the back of his truck, he had our other guest of honor, all green and leathery, and blinking its eyes slowly in the bright sunlight.
Pinto had simply found a panguero poacher and paid him $180 out of his own pocket to buy the lucky turtle's freedom. (The panguero had 17 more live turtles headed for market, all of which have undoubtedly been barbecued by now. It's part of an estimated up to 150 turtles per day, according to John Brakey of the Amigos del Mar de Cortz, that are killed in the greater San Carlos-Guaymas area alone, and this, in turn, is part of a pattern that is occurring all over Mexico.)
Our sea turtle was photographed, together with Luis Fueyo and Tere (pronounced Terry) Grossman, the legendary founder who has operated the San Carlos marina with her husband, Ed, since 1978, after buying the bay from the even more legendary Rafael T. Caballero, who was also present.
Fueyo, a sincere and dedicated conservationist, weathered the storm well, and that evening he visited the Grossman's at their beautiful sea front home, where the turtle swam in a small tide pool, awaiting the safety of a rising tide after dark to make its escape.
Later, Fueyo explained to me the realities: Mexico has 11,000 kilometers of coastline, and 3 million square kilometers of ocean within its Exclusive Economic Zone. He, Luis Fueyo, "The Man" responsible for protecting all that area, has a grand total of 120 inspectors at his disposal. Do the math, amigos.
All is not lost. Fueyo was in San Carlos--as I was--to attend a conference of a small steering committee that is drafting a proposal for a new government agency that has already been given tentative approval by the Secretary of Agriculture, Javier Usabiaga. This new agency, through a government trust, will collect funds from the sale of sport fishing licenses and use that money for the protection of the environment. If passed, this will amount to millions of dollars per year that have never before been available for this purpose.
At this moment, it is nearly midnight, and I am typing this column on a desk in John Brakey's marine hardware store in San Carlos. The north wind is howling tonight, and a couple of hours ago, Luis Fueyo flew back to Mexico City with the rough first draftings of the proposal that he says will be presented to Congress within a few months.
I am trying real hard not to hope for too much, but maybe, just maybe, after all the damage it has suffered, this time, the beautiful Sea of Cortez will be saved after all.
(Related San Carlos articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main San Carlos information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the San Carlos area in "Mexico Fishing News.")