|OUT OF CONTROL, SARDINE BOATS! The headline blared above a photo of a sardine boat inside Magdalena Bay. The caption said it all. "Foreign sardine boats in local waters are destroying the livelihood of hundreds of fishing families in the municipality of Comondu."
For the past decade sardine biomass has been under siege as quotas were first increased, then doubled. So it came as no surprise when Bob Hoyt, Mag Bay Outfitters, forwarded the story above which was published in The Sudcaliforniano recently.
Magdalena Bay is one of the few places that sardines can be found throughout the year in the Eastern Pacific. It is believed to be the primary breeding grounds and nursery for the bulk of the sardine population. When C.R.I.P. (Centro Regional de Investigaciones Pesqueras) decreed that the quotas could be doubled, the marine biologists, sportfishermen and a few locals warned that the raised quotas would endanger the sardine biomass which would be disastrous for the many pelagics and resident species that depend on the sardines for survival.
It was troubling when a Moon Industry sign first appeared over a decade ago on the new cannery built at the foot of the pier at Puerto San Carlos. The rumors of doubling the sardine quotas from 200 tons per day to 400 tons per day that had been swirling through the small community for several years became a reality…welcomed by locals needing work.
It wasn't long, however, before the sardine boats seeking their quarry offshore and in the bay itself began venturing farther up into the mangrove-lined channels in search of more fertile grounds. The well-documented destructive by-catch of the seiners was visually confirmed when we came upon one anchored near Devil's Curve with a 400+ pound grouper caught in their net hanging from the boom.
Mike McGettigan, founder of Sea Watch doubted that the sardine fishery could remain sustainable. Putting the 400-ton per day quota of sardines in perspective, he calculated three sardines per pound would equal 1.2 million sardines being processed a day. Another result of the higher quotas is size reduction. It used to require only 7 to 9 sardines to fill a one-pound oval tin; today it requires twice as many.
Enough with the statistics, though. During the past decade the phenomenal sportfishing that drew anglers from around the world has suffered. Although there are still off-the-chart sportfishing opportunities to be found, the offshore fishery for billfish, tuna, wahoo and dorado that was once a dependable event each fall is no longer consistent.
There are many fishermen in Lopez Mateos, San Juanico, Las Barrancas, Alcatraz and Puerto San Carlos who contend that C.R.I.P. has entered into agreements with different companies allowing six sardine boats with a capacity of one hundred tons per day to fish the area in order to exploit the harvest quotas. In a statement addressed to state governor, Marcos Alberto Covarrubias Villasenor, and mayor, Venustiano Perez Sanchez, they claimed that some boats arriving in the area are targeting additional species including shrimp, hake, octopus, etc.
They requested that a meeting be scheduled to address the problems caused by sardine boats from the states of Sonora, Sinaloa and Baja California Norte in order to protect the resources so local fishermen may continue to earn their living from the waters in Magdalena Bay and the Pacific as they have for countless generations. Simply stated, fishermen are asking state and local authorities to defend the sovereignty of Baja Sur and protect the sea's resources surrounding the area for Comundeños fishermen.
Why the increased demand for sardine? Human consumption? Not hardly. According to cannery employees, sardine reduction or 'burning', banned in most countries, is how 75 percent of the total Monterey sardine catch is processed to meet the increasing demand from animal industries that rely on fishmeal for protein.
So while the Comundeños fishermen await their meeting with the politicians, the sardine fleet continues to decimate the resources to feed livestock; the major and commercial fish are left without the resources they depend on to survive. No wonder the community, the sardine industry, and environmental organizations are concerned about the long-term sustainability of the sardine in and surrounding Magdalena Bay.
Magdalena Bay was once regarded as one of Baja's remaining pristine marine habitats but it may soon become a desolate marine wasteland. A decade of serving special interests and the greed it represents must be changed! Isn't it time that a reliable monitoring system of sardine size and biomass be established before it is too late?
IT WASN'T LONG, HOWEVER, before the sardine boats seeking their quarry offshore and in the bay itself began venturing farther up into the mangrove-lined channels in search of more fertile grounds.