By Gene Kira, Sept. 9, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
During a visit to Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo last Friday, Mexican President Vicente Fox was compelled--for the first time--to make a personal public statement on the infamous Shark Norma 029-2000 fisheries regulation proposal that has his country in an uproar.
Until Fox spoke, Mexico's universal scorn for the Shark Norma was directed mostly at Department of Fisheries chief, Jeronimo Ramos, and more recently, at Ramos' boss, Secretary of Agriculture Javier Usabiaga.
Fox himself was well insulated from the public outcry. The protests were reminiscent of the children's story of "The Emperor's New Clothes," where a tingling dramatic tension is created by a clever plot device: everybody can see that the Emperor is parading around stark naked, but nobody has the courage to say so.
Until Friday, Mexican protesters maintained the polite fiction that Fox and Usabiaga were somehow ignorant of the Shark Norma, which would allow drastically increased longlining and gill netting as close as 1 kilometer of the Mexican coastline, and even inside the Sea of Cortez.
All around the country, people were pleading ingenuously: "Somebody has to make Fox and Usabiaga aware of this problem!" as though the President and his Secretary of Agriculture were sitting on some Mount Olympus, totally ignorant of the havoc being wreaked by their own Department of Fisheries.
Well, amigos, the Emperor has finally spoken.
It happened as the result of courageous lobbying by the people of Baja California Sur, their political leaders, and the Mexican Billfish Foundation, who created a high public stink that rose all the way to the top of Mount Olympus.
When Fox arrived at Los Cabos International Airport, he was faced with demonstrations and a blockage of the highway into San Jose del Cabo that must have reminded him of the machete-waving farmers who stopped his airport project for Mexico City.
He was cornered by local television producer, Armando Figaredo, who popped the Big Question, and Fox was forced to reply that: 1. The Department of Fisheries would not be allowed to pass any legislation contrary to sustainable management. 2. The Shark Norma will be postponed until November 12, so that input from concerned parties could be obtained. 3. That input would not be ignored.
Earlier, Secretary Usabiaga had appeared to brush off agreements reached in La Paz. On television, he let it slip that the Shark Norma would be passed in essentially unaltered form.
Instantly, a Pandora's box of protests burst open across the country. On national television, a poll was taken. Of over 40,000 people voting, 86 percent were against unsustainable fisheries exploitation as exemplified by the Shark Norma. Then, the entire Mexican Senate voted unanimously against it.
Clearly, Fox-in-the-open can no longer support the Shark Norma without creating a surreal government-against-its-own-people crisis. With even subsistence pangueros now joining the fight against the Shark Norma, Fox must follow the overwheming will of his constituency, or risk more unrest and embarassing demonstrations, at least in the state of Baja California Sur. The international pubic relations fallout could resemble that of Chiapas, perhaps with fishermen in pangas instead of farmers in ski masks.
In Baja Sur, people are bitterly aware that Fox's postponement of the Shark Norma only until November 12 is a clear violation of a verbal agreement reached a few weeks ago in La Paz which called for a postponement of indefinite length.
The November 12 date is seen as a painfully obvious ploy by Fox to keep things quiet until after the crucial Asian Pacific Economic Conference (APEC), scheduled in Cabo San Lucas on October 21-27.
Things, however, are not going to be quiet. Hardly. Right now, a series of at least five high level meetings is being scheduled by the ruling Comite Consultivo Nacional de Normalizacion de Pesca Responsable in locations all around Mexico--including Chiapas, incidentally!--and conservation forces are preparing to submit changes to the Shark Norma, as requested by Fox.
Already, plans are being made for major civil demonstrations during APEC, and I have even heard the word "riots" used several times by people you wouldn't expect to hear that word from. Another person said that Fox may see roads blocked by the children of Baja California Sur, waving paper machetes, and pleading for their own futures. That should make the cover of Time and Newsweek.
If Fox acts as promised, this Shark Norma may be the turning point in Mexico's struggle to join the international community of nations in its long, wobbly march toward sustainable fisheries management. If not, there's going to be a big chubasco blowing, from Baja Sur all the way to Mexico City.
(Related San Jose del Cabo (Los Cabos) articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main San Jose del Cabo (Los Cabos) information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the San Jose del Cabo (Los Cabos) area in "Mexico Fishing News.")