Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014
All systems go?
Wednesday, June 04, 2014
Even June gloom came early…

Tuna pens, sardine, sardina and the blame game
“I just wanted to bring into light the fact that there seems to be very few sardines or flat iron herring left around the East Cape and La Paz areas. I've trailered my boat down there for over 16 years and this situation concerns me. I believe this to be a direct impact to the commercial tuna corral operations depleting the local supplies of sardines to fatten up their tuna in the pens over past couple of years. The damage may take years to repair itself, if it ever repairs itself! What can we do to shed some light on this situation? I know for a fact that many local fishing guides are oblivious as to why the sardines have vanished! … DB”

OF COURSE THE tuna pens operation has had an impact on the sardine fishery since they first began operating, as well.

Thank you for taking time to share your concerns regarding sardina (flat iron herring) and sardines and the impact of the tuna pen operation on those fisheries.

The shortages of both bait fish share one common distinction: greed! Beyond that, the problems are vastly different, so let's begin with sardine. Anchovy was the common bait when I first started fishing on half-day boats out of San Diego around 60 years ago, and the consensus then was that the sardine was overfished and gone forever. Most of the boats fishing them moved on to other species.

Now, more than six decades later, history is repeating itself. Since the early 2000s, the Mexican government has been upping the quotas at Magdalena Bay. My friend Gene Kira began sounding the alarm when Moon Industries arrived at Puerto San Carlos. The Mexican government welcomed Moon and accommodated their arrival by doubling the sardine quota from 200 to 400 tons.

In a Roadtrekker column, Mag Bay Burning, published in 2012, [see below] 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 that many.

Since the first increase in quota size, they have been increased several times and the sardine biomass appears to have been decimated. Of course the Tuna Pens operation has had an impact on the sardine fishery since they first began operating, as well. However, they are the relatively newcomers and an easy target to blame.

With regard to the sardina (flat iron herrings) blaming the Tuna Pens for the lack of those seems to be looking at the problem from a myopic viewpoint.

The catching and selling of these bait fish has become a thriving cottage industry that is as full of greed as the sardine seiners. From Baja's tip throughout the Sea of Cortez, $$$ have clouded common sense.

As an example, Eric Brictson, Gordo Banks Pangas, lamented the other day, "Recently, all we had left off the beaches outside the marina were sardina fry less than an inch long that were slipping through the mesh of the nets we used. Because of demand, bait fishermen simply switched to nets with smaller mesh destroying any likelihood of a sardina spawn anytime soon."

As the sardina have diminished in quantity, the ingenuity of the "Bait Bandits" must be grudgingly admired. What was traditionally a regional enterprise has changed as the shortages have increased.

Now, pickups are rigged with “Walter Mitty contraptions” to preserve the baitfish as they are transported longer distances from where they are caught to the eagerly awaiting anglers miles away. Others simply save their catch in five-gallon plastic buckets, throw salt on the mess and package the bait in Ziploc bags that bring $20 plus per bag.

So, DB, there is your answer: There is enough culpability to fuel the fires of the "Blame Game" for years to come, but it makes much more sense to go to the source and demand that the Mexican government stops increasing quotas and stops looking the other way every time another dollar drops.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 Magbay burning

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