Mexico senators applaud Billfish Foundation efforts

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Though backed with a stronger sportfishing/conservation bill currently on the Senate floor in Mexico City that would close major loopholes in the current law, its proponents now face opposition from political and commercial fishing interests pushing legislation to open the dorado fishery more.

For over two decades dorado (also called dolphinfish, mahi-mahi or goldmakrele) along with billfish (striped marlin, sailfish, etc.), tarpon and roosterfish have been regulated as sport fish in Mexican waters. But a controversial directive, 15 NOM-029 also known as "Shark Norma," authorized by Mexico's fisheries agency CONAPESCA in May 2008, allows for the "incidental" harvest of billfish, dorado and other species within Mexico's conservation zones. The area has long attracted the illegal fishing interests in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) waters and Pacific Ocean coasts and tons of illegal dorado shipments into the United States.

Based on a multi-year socio-economic study by The Billfish Foundation (TBF), the new conservation bill was introduced by Sen. Luis Alberto Coppola Joffroy and Humberto Andrade Quezada with endorsements by Sen. Jaime Rafael Díaz Ochoa, Sen. Luis Fernando Rodríguez Lomelí and Sen. Emma Lucía Larios Gaxiola. In March it received unanimous support by the Congress of the Mexican State of Baja California Sur (BCS).

But members of Mexico's PRD (Party of Democratic Revolution) political faction countered by introducing an initiative to allow dorado to be harvested by commercial fishermen contrary to the law that regulates dorado, billfish and other species as sport fish only.

In turn Coppola and Andrade, both members of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) brought to the Senate floor in May a proposed "agreement with arguments" against the dorado commercial fishery. It too received the Senate's full support in late May.

For both of their conservation initiatives the senators used TBF's study that revealed sportfishing tourism added over $630 million dollars annually directly to the BCS economy.

Fishing tourism windfall

The study, led by TBF Science Director Dr. Russell Nelson and Rob Southwick, Southwick & Associations, Inc., revealed 354,013 people fished in Los Cabos in 2007, most all of them international visitors spending an estimated $633.6 million (U.S.) for lodging, charter boats, food, transportation, tackle, fuel and more.

Positive cascading economic effects in the local economy included the creation of 24,426 jobs, $245.5 million in local and federal tax revenues, and $1.125 billion in total economic activity. Visitors who fish there provided an estimated 24.1 percent of the total Los Cabos economy the report disclosed.

Specific waters includes the Pacific and 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. Coppola's bill would clearly eliminate the commercial market's sale and the possibility of any bycatch exceptions for billfish, dorado, tarpon and roosterfish protected by the existing conservation zones.

Bill may sit through summer

But that bill will likely sit until after a summer-long recess in August, when the three-year terms of the PRD's lame-duck congressmen end and the new congressmen's terms begin.

"Before the 'war' can be won, i.e. the passage of the Coppola's bill for sportfishing and conservation, he must wait for the 'battle' to be won," characterized Guillermo Alvarez, TBF's Mexican conservation director, of the situation. "We hope over the summer Senators Coppola and Andrade can gain even more support among other lawmakers in the 31 states of Mexico."

In a letter thanking TBF President Ellen Peel, a spokesman for the two senators wrote, "Mexico can not afford to divert from its sport fish conservation tradition and we will not tolerate this (commercial harvesting of dorado, etc.) to happen."

"In difficult times — as we are going through because of the influenza outbreak — competitiveness lies on sportfishing as TBF's economic research shows," stated Joel Macias de Lara, who coordinates the senator's advisory group.

Wire service reports in late May announced Mexico was spending $90 million to attract tourists after the severe fallout of visitors led by the news on the country's flu epidemic. Because of the flu, Los Cabos saw several major tournaments postponed or cancelled.

"TBF's recent socio-economic study in the Baja Sur region of the country makes clear that billfishing is an important economic stimulus to the nation, therefore billfish, dorado and other species important to anglers should be protected," said Peel.

"The Billfish Foundation applauds Sen. Coppola for his two current initiatives now in Congress. He once again is demonstrating his strong commitment to good conservation and a strong economy. Sen. Coppola understands that good conservation pays. Many areas in Mexico are famous and were economically strong not too long ago because of sportfishing. But if the fish important to sportfishing are allowed to be sold, then anglers and their dollars will go to other nations to fish. TBF urges the Senate to join forces with Coppola for the good of the country, its economy, the fish and the ocean."

To read Sen. Coppola's bill and proposal, along with the letter thanking TBF's efforts, go to TBF's web site at www.billfish.org.