Tuesday, July 14, 2009

PESCADORES VIGILANTES… Solution to an Old Problem?

More than a decade ago “Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto” was established. The park covers a large part of the local fishing grounds off Loreto nearly half a million acres including islands of Coronado, Carmen, Danzante, Monserrat, and Santa Catalina.

Frustrated with the lack of enforcement, the Loreto fishing community decided to turn to an old solution with a new name.
More than a decade ago, “Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto” was established. The park covers a large part of the local fishing grounds off Loreto…nearly half a million acres including the islands of Coronado, Carmen, Danzante, Monserrat, and Santa Catalina.

The initial plan was to control commercial fishing and sportfishing. Special permits for those entering the park would be issued. PROFEPA, the enforcement branch of SEMARNAP (Mexican Fish and Game), would supply the staff, who would supervise and enforce the rules, issuing citations, confiscating property, and arresting anyone who violated those rules.

However, resources allocated to protect the area were limited causing sporadic enforcement. Mainland fishing fleets repeatedly appeared inside the park during peak season, without permits and ignoring the regulations. Additionally, while local park users paid the required fees, visiting sportfishers were often overlooked. Park staff seldom responded to the frequent complaints.

On June 1, 2009, Laura Escobosa, the Director of Eco-Alianza, invited local commercial and sport fishermen to a meeting to consider the formation of an organization, Pescadores Vigilantes (vi gilant fishermen). This organization, sponsored by Eco-Alianza, would protect the waters surrounding Loreto.

Pam Bolles of Baja Big Fish Company welcomed the attendees, expressed her gratitude to Eco-Alianza for hosting the meeting and introduced Laura Escobosa.

Ms. Escobosa emphasized the need for local fishermen to unite in order to protect Loreto’s Marine Resources and to improve fishing, an important part of Loreto’s economy. She stated that conserving the waters surrounding the area is simply good business for the entire community and she challenged the many fishermen in attendance to insist on solutions that would guarantee the future economic stability of Loreto’s fishing industry.

Indiscriminate dumping of trash, oils, paints and other waste products cause irreversible damage to its environmental integrity. If the waters off Loreto become over-fished and polluted, the impact on the ecosystem will be devastating. The consequences on local fishing and tourism will be a serious setback to the local economy. Only by uniting can the local fishermen influence the future of Loreto Marine Resources.

While all agreed that the protection of the resources in the park is everyone’s responsibility, in a practical sense, the fishermen who work in the park must assume more responsibility by taking a proprietary interest in protecting resources that provide their income. As fishermen, they need to understand their importance to the tourist economy. They needed reassurance, however, that Pescadores Vigilantes would provide them a collective voice which would be heard when decisions about the future of Loreto are considered.
Ms. Escobosa pledged that Eco-Alianza would provide the following administrative support:

• In the past anyone observing illegal activities feared identification and possible retribution. Now there is a system which provides complete anonymity. Individuals can either call or visit the Eco-Alianza office to report illegal activities, with complete assurance that their names will never be exposed.
• The organization would also create a clearly defined map of fishing zones and no-take areas and produce a simple version of current regulations and guidelines inside the park using the latest information published by the Mexican Government.

Many other ideas were discussed including having a booth at the Marina open from 6 AM to 6 PM daily where visitors could purchase FONMAR fishing licenses and CONANP bracelets. Currently, nothing is available until after 9 AM.
Many attendees voiced their enthusiasm to help with surveillance and to report violations.

Everyone expressed a hope that others from the Loreto fishing community would join the efforts of this young organization and that the group could develop ideas to improve the fishing sector and the resources.
Before the group adjourned it was announced that the next meeting would be held in three months.

PROFEPA, the enforcement branch of SEMARNAP (Mexican Fish and Game) appears to have aggravated another local community enough to require community reaction and action. Pescadores Vigilantes’ success will depend on the strength and character of its members. The resolution to this ongoing problem is a test of wills and the outcome will be determined by the group with the most tenacity and resolve.