More questions than answers permeate Mexico’s FMM/SCT requirements for U.S. boaters
BY BRANDON HAYWARD
WON Staff Writer
SAN DIEGO — It’s a question that begs to be asked: does Mexico want U.S. based boats to visit their territorial waters after leaving from stateside ports like San Diego?
The statements from Alberto Diaz, the spokesperson from the Consulate General of Mexico’s office in San Diego indicate yes, but so far the “process” to obtain the FMM forms that Diaz says are required combined with the need to check in and out of Ensenada and for sportboats to have SCT permit have created an impossible situation for both sport and private boats.
In an exclusive interview with WON, Diaz answered, “yes” to WON’s question of “Do private boaters and sportboats need an FMM to visit Mexican waters?”
“The only way to get the FMM is through the port of Ensenada,” added Diaz, who is the spokesperson for the Consulate General’s office, which is the same office that issued the release back in March that called for all boaters to obtain an FMM before visiting Mexico’s territorial waters, which stretch 24 miles from Mexican soil.
A novel’s worth of questions have sprouted up on the heels of the sportboat Sea Watch being the most recent to be told to leave the Coronado Islands after not having, what the Mexican Navy called a “snorkeling permit.” The fishing vessel was engaged in snorkeling activities. But there is no such thing as a snorkeling permit.
The questions and confusions stem — in part — to constant requests from the Navy asking for permits that do not exist after boarding sportboats at the Coronados Islands. The snorkeling permit is one example of a non-valid permit. A “boat permit” like the one that Mexico eliminated years ago is another.
Diaz admits that there has been a lot of confusion over the FMM and SCT permit requirement (which requires all sportboats to check in and out of a port, but doesn’t apply to private boats). Part of the confusion, says Diaz, is that boaters are looking at the FMM as a new requirement. But its not.
“Inaccurate information about a ‘fishing visa’” is what has caused confusion, says Diaz. But he says that the FMM has always been required, per the Mexican Constitution. It’s just that it’s now being enforced due to added “security.”
“(Before) there were not frequent inspections at places like the Coronados… but now there are more frequent inspections due to security,” adds Diaz.
That’s not news to the San Diego sport fleet. The inspections at the Coronados last year had the Malihini told to leave after not having what the Mexican Navy called a boat permit. The sportboat/dive boat Horizon was detained at Cedros Island over confusion over paperwork. It was one of two boats detained by the Mexican Navy last year.
What the Consulate General’s office is saying is that boats need the FMM forms for each passenger and a SCT permit, which is administered by the department in Mexico that is in charge of ports, waterways and transportation. But here lies the problem: there is no office stateside to get a FMM, and even going to Tijuana doesn’t work, as it’s a land visa that is issued. The SCT is a whole different logistical nightmare, as it’s impossible for the 3/4-day fleet to check in and out of Ensenada; and the long range fleet that is SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) certified can not touch foreign ports, per United States Coast Guard requirements. The Mex Tour Assist Company that sprouted up to “facilitate” the FMM process is no longer in business.
So is this a move by Mexico to get all boats to operate out of Mexico, by essentially making it logistically impossible to fish Mexican Waters out of a U.S. port?
So far, the ¾-day fleet has abandoned fishing the Coronado Islands, instead focusing on waters outside 24 miles. Ditto for the overnight and long range fleets. Skiffs (as in private boats) have been fishing the Coronados — although relatively few compared to most seasons — after the move by the Navy to tell all boats without the FMM forms on board to leave two weeks ago.
Diaz says that the Navy has been checking boats at the islands, but so far not for the FMM forms. But that is only temporary, as word spreads of the new requirements.
“The Navy is conducting inspections, but they are being considerate of the change,” adds Diaz. “They (the Mexican Navy) are asking for licenses, but not the FMM.”
So what about fishing on the way to Ensenada for boats that plan on getting the FMM? Diaz says that it’s up to the Navy. Overall, he says that the Navy’s stance is “flexible” and that “warnings” are being issued, for the time being. But it’s at the Navy’s discretion. (Discretion and Mexican Navy put in a sentence has been known to make some nervous.)
As it stands, the only way to get a FMM is to go to Ensenada, put the boat in a slip, get a taxi and try to find the immigration office. It’s not a route that private boaters are willing to take.
So does Mexico want U.S. boaters using their waters on trips that originate out of the United States? While it is being talked about in the context of fishing boats, it’s really an issue between the U.S. and Mexican governments, as it pertains to all boating activities, from the weekender wanting to go to the Coronados and try for a yellowtail off Pukey Point to the hardened Baja sailboater who takes part in Baja odysseys and tucks into secluded bays and islands. Communication between the U.S. Government and Mexico is key. But so far there has been nothing issued by the U.S. State Department.
The angling community is leaning on SAC, the Sportfishing Association of California, for answers and solutions. And the association has been working day and night on the issue as it pertains to its constituents, which are the sportboats and landings, as well as the boating public as a whole. But it is not an issue that is just about sportboats. It’s about all boaters and international relations.
“The bottom line is that we are seeking reasonable and appropriate solutions for the restoration of access (to Mexico) for the U.S. boating public,” says SAC President Ken Franke.
There have been meetings between the Port of San Diego and the Mayor’s office, says sources close to WON outside of SAC.
But they better happen fast and find resolution. The San Diego fleet — some of which are already on life support after three tough seasons that have been battered by a lack of fish/shorter seasons/poor economy — can’t handle another ailment.
“This will slowly put the day fleet out of business,” says Phil Lobred, partner in H&M Landing, which is home to a huge overnight and multi-day fleet, as well as the longest standing ¾-day boat on the coast in that of the Malihini. And where does the Malihini fish daily? The Coronado Islands.
“We’ve already lost eight boats,” says Lobred of the H&M fleet getting hit hard by the late-to-start seasons of the past few years combined with the economy resulting in eight of the landing’s vessels getting repossessed or turned into the banks. “The boats are going bankrupt left and right,” admits Lobred.
Lobred says that he and the other landing owners and boat owners have no problem giving Mexico a revenue stream. They want to pay to fish in Mexico, like they long have with Mexican permits and the boat permit, when it was in effect. But the logistics currently required are literally impossible for the collective San Diego fleet to adhere to.
“It’s just physically impossible for the boats to check into Ensenada,” adds Lobred.
Many told WON that there are compromises and resolutions on the horizon. But in the meantime, checking onto Ensenada is what the requirements hinge on.
“We have an avenue to present that includes having CONAPESCA (Mexico’s National Aquaculture and Fishing Commission) involved with the visas, so we’ll see…” adds Lobred of one of the potential compromises.
There are more questions than answers intertwined around the issue, and until meetings occur between both governments it’s impossible to predict the outcome(s). Yet within these questions are interesting facts. Facts that seem to go against U.S. and Mexico working together.
The Port of Ensenada is the sister port to San Diego. As such, the two ports are supposed to facilitate commerce. But there doesn’t seem to be any facilitation.
It all comes down to if Mexico wanted to help on the issue, they could. So could the U.S. State Department.
The big picture — not the one viewed through the lens of an angler who fishes Mexico — is that it’s an issue that involves agencies from the two governments to work together.
Sources close to WON say that Senators and legislators are starting to catch wind of the issue, but “… it’s going to take a while for them to get involved.”
In the meantime, there is massive confusion as to how to get the FMM, where to get it and why the Mexican government is making it so hard to get the FMM which, at one point, used to be obtainable right at the Consulate General’s Office in San Diego.
The solution involves U.S. boats not having to touch a Mexican port. As it stands now, it looks as though the agenda is to make it so tough for U.S. boats to enter Mexico from U.S. ports that U.S. boaters have to work out of Mexico.
Meetings this week between parties ranging from the Port of San Diego to Consulate General will discuss the issue.
The bottom line from where anglers stand is that going into Ensenada on each and every trip is logistically impossible.
In the meantime, U.S. sportboats will be outside the 24-mile zone that separates the territorial waters of Mexico. And limited private boaters will keep fishing the Coronados. That is until the Mexican Navy asks for the FMM forms. Again.