Just a day prior to opening of shrimp season for smaller coastal boats (pangas), on September 24th the federal government officially announced new fishing restrictions for the Upper Gulf of California. Regardless, coastal fishermen in the region have warned they are not willing to give up their fishing nets, arguing the new decree represents a dire threat to their communities.
At the same time, federal lawmakers are working overtime to address the situation, which could potentially represent more commercial sanctions against Mexico that in turn would directly affect the communities of San Felipe, Baja California, and El Golfo de Santa Clara, Sonora.
According to the Federal decree, published in the Official Journal of the Federation (DOF), an agreement on regulating fishing gear, systems, methods, techniques and timeframes in the northern Gulf of California, prohibits the use, manufacture, possession, and transportation of gillnets within the habitat of the endangered vaquita marina.
Under the decree, the region’s fishing permit holders, captains, owners, operators, fishermen, and crew have 60 days to turn in their gillnets to offices of the National Commission on Aquaculture and Fishing (CONAPESCA). To the contrary, they may face fines, having their boats seized, as well as possible withdrawal of fishing permits.
The new provisions also create a “Zero Tolerance Area”, which may be modified depending on information as vaquita marina sightings. The “Zero Tolerance Area” will not allow for boat transit of any kind, enforced through 24-hour patrols and surveillance.
Sunshine Rodriguez Peña, leader of the San Felipe Fishermen’s Cooperative, affirmed the government’s recent demands for the region’s fishermen to hand over their traditional nets within 60 days is a “threat, that for some is a declaration of war.”
Rodriguez Peña asserted the fishing sector operating within the vaquita habitat will not tolerate prohibitions on the region’s sole economic activity, and even less so restrictions on those who need to work. He further noted, despite a commitment made 6 years ago, the National Fishing Institute (INAPESCA) has failed to develop alternative fishing nets.