FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla, USA — A move to strengthen fishing and conservation laws in Mexico's waters gained major support by all political parties late last week in a vote by members of the Congress of the Mexican State of Baja California Sur (BCS).
Backed by a socio-economic study from The Billfish Foundation, the BCS members voted unanimously to take a position of support for federal legislation to toughen commercial fishing laws through a bill recently introduced by Senators Luis Alberto Coppola Joffroy and Humberto Andrade Quezada.
The action among the members was remarkable in that it marks the first unification across political party lines to support this conservation effort that would protect its economically rich sport fisheries, especially in the Los Cabos region of the BCS.
The bill would clearly eliminate the commercial market's sale and the possibility of any bycatch exceptions for billfish, dorado, tarpon and roosterfish protected for sportfishing by existing 50 mile conservation zones.
To support their legislation Joffroy and Quezada used documents which cited results of TBF's study released last fall that revealed sportfishing tourism to be adding over $630 million dollars annually directly to the BCS economy.
The TBF study showed in 2007, 354,013 people, most all of them international visitors, fished in Los Cabos. While there they spent an estimated $633.6 million dollars for lodging, charter boats, food, transportation, tackle, fuel, and more. These expenditures started a series of positive cascading economic effects in the local economy which included the creation of 24,426 jobs, $245.5 U.S. million in local and federal tax revenues, and $1.125 U.S. billion in total economic activity.
Visitors who fish there provided an estimated 24.1 percent of the total Los Cabos economy the report disclosed.
The legislative action is particularly significant in light of the fact that the BCS Governor has not been supportive of strong conservation initiatives and the BCS Congress is dominated by members of the PRD party (Party of Democratic Revolution). Coppola and Andrade are in the conservative National Action Party (PAN).
"TBF is greatly encouraged by this demonstration of strong bipartisan support for these important billfish conservation efforts in Mexico," said its Chairman John Brownlee, "and we are pleased that our research has demonstrated how good conservation and sportfishing opportunities can bring new wealth and sustainable job opportunities to all of Mexico's coastal communities."
Senator Coppola said he was pleased that all parties at the local BCS State Congress are now endorsing his initiative which speaks of how much impact the evaluation by TBF of the economic importance to Los Cabos and BCS had on the Senate."
But the solidarity in the BCS may need to be carried even further.
The Senate legislation supported by Coppola and Andrade faces some opposition in the form of an alternative proposal, supported by commercial fishing interests that would provide complete protection to these resources in the waters off of BCS while allowing expanded commercial harvest in the rest of Mexico.
"The idea of protecting highly migratory billfish off Los Cabos and killing them elsewhere along Mexico's coastline is not supported by any biological or economic data," TBF scientist Dr. Russell Nelson explained. "Fish killed off Acapulco will forever be lost to the Los Cabos fishery. We have developed a bioeconomic model that shows this action would create losses of over $425 million a year and 18,000 jobs to the BCS economy and far greater economic losses to Mexico as a whole."
The specific waters for the Coppola/Andrade action before the Mexican legislature includes the Pacific and Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico coasts 50 miles out and an additional large area off Cabo that extends about 150 miles north and south and 100 miles out from the coast.
Nelson said hopefully this legislature will close any loopholes. Recent attempts by Mexico's fisheries agency, CONAPESCA, to establish liberal by-catch allowances for billfish, dorado and other species have drawn sharp criticism from sportfishing and conservation organizations.
The area has long attracted the illegal fishing interests in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) waters and Pacific Ocean coasts and illegal shipments into the United States.
Intentionally mislabeled, multiple tons of the illegal dorado catches, have crossed into the United States by semi-tractor trailer trucks through Arizona (Nogales) and California (Tijuana).
"This destructively affects fishing resources and the millions in tourist dollars that also support sport fishing such as catch-and-release for striped marlin in the region," said Nelson.
Nelson concluded, "We need to unite behind the fact-based legislation introduced by Senators Coppola and Andrade and supported by many others from all political parties and create a future where the economic development potential generated by good conservation policies and sport fishing tourism can benefit all the people of Mexico."
Established in 1986 The Billfish Foundation is the only non-profit organization dedicated solely to conserving and enhancing billfish populations around the world. TBF's comprehensive network of members and supporters includes anglers, captains, mates, tournament directors, clubs, sport fishing and tourism businesses. By coordinating efforts and speaking with one voice, the organization works for solutions that are good for billfish, not punitive to recreational anglers and good for the local economy.