Author Archives: Pedro Zapata

Mexican fisheries delegation visits West Coast; EDF-sponsored fact-finding trip illustrates benefits of collaboration in fishery management

Photos courtesy of SEPESCA – Baja California

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying senior fisheries officials from four Mexican states to Southern California, where they met with fishermen, seafood processors and members of the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC).  As they establish and reinforce their own fishery management systems and structures, this trip was a chance for Mexican officials to see firsthand a well-established system that has evolved for decades – and generally succeeds – through broad-based stakeholder participation and a commitment to transparency.

In 2007 the four states with Gulf of California coastlines – Sonora, Sinaloa, Baja California and Baja California Sur – were mandated by the new Mexican Fisheries Law to establish fishery management structures. Some are further along than others, but each face daunting challenges; Limited manpower and finances, little governing infrastructure and minimal baseline scientific data that are so critical to fishery management.

Although I don’t presume to speak for the individual fishery leaders, I think it’s safe to say that this trip was a success. Based on our conversations, here are some of the concepts that made the strongest impressions on them during the visit:

  • There are real benefits in having state fishery officials working with other states through a regional body, and sharing equally not only in the responsibilities of fishery management, but in the “best available science” that informs “best possible decision-making.”
  • There is real power in the council process. The decisions they reach have deep and serious implications, and it is clear from our conversations that this level of influence in the public policy process weighs heavily on council members as they deliberate and dialogue.
  • There is great respect for the views of fishermen (in the PFMC process), but there are also time-proven filters – the Council advisory committees that EDF staffers participate in. These advisory bodies air out and “stress-test” the concerns, opinions and recommendations of industry leaders and NGOs before they are presented to the Council. In a process that often involves week-long Council meetings, this filtering and testing is essential to the Council’s effectiveness.
  • The federal government plays a critical role in Council processes, but they participate as mutually respectful equals with the states, and a very healthy give-and-take is evident during Council meetings.

Not every policy and tactic in the Pacific are applicable to Mexico, but the fishery officials certainly benefited from a wealth of “lessons-learned” by West Coast fishery managers, and as we all know, lessons learned by someone else are often the best kind!

The Gulf of California states comprise a geographically and economically distinct region with fantastic marine resources. Developing management systems to support those resources and coastal economies will take a long time, but my staff and I look forward to helping in every way we can.

Delegation members Carlos Aceves and Daniel Vargas (Baja California State); Jose Fernando Garcia and Armando Herrero (Baja California Sur); Cuauhtemoc Castro and Cesar Julio Saucedo (Sinaloa State) ; Javier Vivian and Raúl Molina (Sonora State); and Anayeli Cabrera and Eduardo Rolon (Community & Biodiversity, Mexico City).

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Revitalizing the Mexican Corvina Fishery with Sustainable Management

Corvina Fishing Boat

Mexican fishermen with a catch of Corvina. Photo Credit: Silvia Yee

For many years the short, six week commercial Corvina fishing season in the Upper Gulf of California was marked by a frenzied race to fish, with as many as 600 boats in the water at the same time. Beginning in late February, and aligned with moon cycles, this species gathers in the Colorado River delta to spawn, a yearly ritual eagerly awaited by the local fishermen. And so every year, with so much fish to be had, and so many fishermen, thousands of tons would hit the market simultaneously. This drove the price down and resulted in even more fishing effort, which would even further depress prices – to values below that of a recycled plastic bottle. It was a vicious cycle that has become all too familiar in fisheries in Latin America and around the world. Scientists have long advised that, if unchecked, this way of fishing could lead to the complete collapse of Corvina, having dire consequences for a region with very limited economic alternatives. It is estimated that Corvina represents as much as 60% of all fish sold in Mexico City during this time of year, coinciding with Lent, when seafood consumption is highest. 

Three years ago EDF, fishermen, and critical partners like Noroeste Sustentable (NOS), the Academy for Systemic Change, and the state and federal governments, set out to bring catch share management to this fishery to give fishermen and others a stake in its biological and economic success. In 2012 a new system was put into place: a scientifically-based Total Allowable Catch (a limit on the amount of fish that can be caught) was published ahead of the season, and the first-ever co-management agreements were brokered in the largest fishing community – Golfo de Santa Clara, which represents roughly 80% of the total catch – that included a price agreement and a per-tide, per-skiff allocation. Central to the good preliminary results of this new system was the agreement reached with leading stakeholders in the region, including Guillermina García and other important local seafood buyers. Ms. García and her peers agreed to a price floor in exchange for the fishermen’s promise to stick to their allocation and not flood the market, allowing the buyers to time their supply to the market in Mexico City. The agreements worked and the price floor held for most of the season. Our initial analysis suggests that fishermen made more money while catching approximately 50% fewer fish over the same period of time.

Dinora Gallardo, a local businesswoman, explained the end result best:

This system is worth it, and we are spending less. Before, we were paid 4-6, maybe 8 pesos per kilo. Now we are catching less, but if you make the calculations with the limited catch, and the higher price, we are actually making more, especially because we are out fishing less.Read More »

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