But Islas Cedros and Benitos could be off-limits under biosphere's basic provisions
I have been looking into the impacts of the massive biosphere that was just announced by Mexican fisheries Dec. 7, in which eight “polygons” or areas on Baja’s west coast and 21 islands seems to be staggering in scope – and the usual confusion on these sorts of announcements. Mexico is not great at boiling things down, or providing translations. Here it is, have at it.
Essentially Mexico published its announcement in a 100-plus page document complete with maps. The San Diego Union Tribune produced a story a few days after the announcement, but while it’s clear about locking out purse seiners and shrimp trawlers and other destructive industry, the document left out any details on how it might affect sportfishing. That is because details are largely unknown at this point.
First things first: While the biosphere is established and is official, and it’s overall provisions are outlined in the document, there will be series of meetings at three key areas sometime in January to get to the devil of the details.
Bottom line, this is conservation at work, and Mexico is protecting its resources, as it should, and its local industry. That includes rampant purse seining on the outside and shrimp trawling that is brutally destructive to nearshore bays like Vizcaino and Magdalena.
Before I go any further, let’s get down to brass tacks, so to speak. After getting a copy of the document and having it translated, and looking at the maps, a few things are clear: Commercial fishing interests from the mainland won’t be happy. Good. Those sportfishing boats that like to stop at Cedros and Benitos Island won’t be happy either unless something can be worked out in these meetings. Sorry, that is surely bad news – at this point. I’ll get to why that is likely, given the document’s wording, in a bit.
The Coronados and Todos Santos, San Martin, Alijos Rocks – all included – should remain open with some restrictions, which are likely minor in terms of sportfishing. That’s what the meetings will determine. Guadalupe already is a biosphere. Unless something happens on that front to the few shark cage and sportfishing permits (3 boats) from San Diego) being issued through the Mexican government, there is no problem there.
So let’s look at this thing. The basics of the biosphere document were translated by Jose Sanchez of Cedros Outdoor Adventures, who is a marine biologist, and his partner in the business, his wife Melanie Lamaga. Jose did not write this biosphere document, but he has been aware of its 10-year development in the long slow process, and 7 years and alerted at least one sportfishing landing operator about it seven years ago. He told them that Cedros and Benitos might be off-limits by sportfishers unless they partner up somehow with local island businesses. Part of the biosphere’s protections are not just about birds and plants and fish, it protects the interests of current businesses on the islands. Now, that was before Jose and Melanie had a lodge. They were just starting out, and a second operator also began chartering pangas. Cedros now has a thriving panga fleet, with three operations that fly anglers in from the U.S. and Ensenada. Two have lodges (one a lodge and the other a converted waterfront home) and another smaller panga operation operating out of a local hotel.
Sanchez was approached by this reporter and agreed to translate the key provisions of the document. Here are Jose and Melanie’s translations of key elements and a few comments:
- In Mexico, Natural Protected Areas (NPAs), also known as Biosphere Reserves, are created by the federal government and signed into law by the President of Mexico.
- NPAs have the main objective of the preservation and sustainable management of the natural resources, ecosystems and species of wildlife in the area.
-The new NPA (Islas de Pacifica de Baja California) includes Cedros Island, plus 20 other islands and 97 islets, along with the surrounding waters.
- On these islands and the surrounding waters, unique ecosystems and species exist. Some are rare, endangered, or require strict management with focus on sustainability.
- As in every other Mexican Biosphere Reserve, as specified by the law, the main beneficiaries from the use and exploitation of these natural resources are the local communities, who must be involved in any economic activity (as was done, for example, with whale watching in San Ignacio lagoon).
- In the case of Benitos and Cedros islands, the local community and local sportfishing operations in existence before the decree will be the exclusive ones allowed to develop projects to exploit the fisheries and resources of the area going forward.
- The decree establishes the general rules, effective immediately after its publication (Dec 7, 2016), but the specific details of its operation and management will be decided during the various meetings and discussions coming over the next few months. The resulting bylaws will be used by the agency of the NPA (CONANP) to administer the NPA.
- Any concession or permit issued before the decree will be valid until its expiration.
Melanie was good enough to also give me a key guide to the maps in the document. The overall map is attached here in this blog but it is not in a large, readable form. You can find all the hi-res maps and the document in the link coming up.
Reading the Map
- In the decree ( http://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_to_imagen_fs.php?codnota=5464451&fecha=07/12/2016&cod_diario=273221) there are maps in which areas are illustrated, noting the areas off limits for certain activities or access (i.e. Zonas Nucleo and Zonas de Amortiguamiento).
- Destructive and intensive fisheries such as shrimp trawlers and seiners are banned from working in all of these areas.
- In the Zonas Nucleo (all are on land) permitted activities include conservation, restoration, research, education, low impact tourism, among others.
- In the Zonas Nucleo it is illegal to pollute, to hunt (except for eradication of exotic species), mine, etc.
- In the Zonas de Amortiguamiento (marine and land) permitted activities include all of the ones of the Zona Nucleo and use of natural resources for local's subsistence, fishing (within regulations), infrastructure for navy, research, and safety, and navigation (use of ports), aquaculture. In the case of Cedros and Benitos area, fishing vessels can not exceed 10.5 m in length.
- In the Zonas de Amortiguamiento and in the Zonas Nucleo the following activities are illegal: to build containments for dangerous substances; to build disposal sites (except for Cedros and Magdalena); spearfishing; fishing trawling or using permanent structures; using chemicals for fishing; to affect ecosystems in any way; to bring exotic species to the islands or use for aquaculture; to build any private infrastructure outside of the population centers; to start fires or create loud noises that disturb the wildlife; to make major repairs or maintenance to boats and motors; to use explosives.
- Users of the areas are obligated to respect the conservation mandate within the specific regulations and permissions, for sustainability. For these, a EIA should be submitted and must comply with the management program.
Meanie and Jose issued as statement Monday as well. The feel that likely there will be some blowback on them, as though they had a hand in creating the document. They did not.
Here is their statement in italics:
“The benefits from this NPA are many, and in our case, it gives us certainty about the future with only ourselves (locals) responsible for the proper management and conservation of the resources we depend on. In the past, fleet of 60+ shrimp trawlers boats will devastate the species of the bottom of the ocean including tons of lobster, small groupers, black seabass, calicos, halibut and more. Also, it will stop purse seiners from taking all the bait and small school fish from the Vizcaino Bay. The bait fish is very important to our sportfishing operations.
Although there is a price to pay for this (restrictions, permits, etc) its a small inconvenient compared to the many benefits this will bring to the local community.
For instance, last season of lobster fishing by the cooperative was the worst catch in the more than 50 years. Probably caused by El Nino or combined with the shrimp trawlers activity.
Now, there is probably going to be a backlash with anglers set and boycotting our businesses, but thinking of it, if they don't see that this NPA will give certainty in the future for the activity they enjoy with passion, then those are the kind of anglers we don't need fishing with us.”
The January meetings will start in three key areas. Sanchez figures they will be held in Ensenada, San Carlos and Cedros Island. User groups, the Mexican navy, local fisheries officials and fishermen will be part of the discussion, as I’m sure U.S. sportfishers will also be represented by the Sportfishing Association of California’s (SAC) President Ken Franke which has an excellent relationship with fisheries officials. We are good hands there.
Because Ken Franke was in Cabo last weekend and unable to comment (He was doing the Let’s Talk Hookup show with Mexican tourism and fisheries officials in Cabo) Frank Ursitti, general manager and part owner of H&M Landing in San Diego, is a guy I trust to be level-headed, and incredibly well-versed in these matters. He said Friday that whatever happens, the fleet will adapt, but SAC will be part of the discussion.
The limitations of U.S.-based sportfishing in all the areas look negligible in nearly all the areas except for one, the largest of the polygons that include Cedros and Benitos islands and Vizcaino Bay. The key to the access in that polygon, appears to be a willingness to work with the local businesses. Seven years ago when Jose broached that idea to a landing operator, it was not well-received, Jose said, and among the problem was “insurance issues.” Despite criticism Cedros Outdoor Adventures, is willing to work with the sportfishers from the U.S. to allow them access to the fishing grounds. Whether that happens is a big unknown.
In general, the main benefit of the biosphere is not to keep U.S. boats out. The restrictions ban shrimp trawlers, and tuna/sardine seiners from operation inside these waters because of their destructive and overfishing impacts, said Sanchez.
“The primary benefit is to preserve the bird and fish populations primarily from rampant commercial fishing when 60 trawlers or 20 seiners are outside our island just packing and killing everything we depend on."
H&M Landing’s Frank Ursitti's written and emailed comments to WON, said Sanchez, are dead on. The resources can be protected and still provide access to sport fishermen.
The following are Ursitti’s comments, denoted here in italics and quotes.
“I believe it's important to disseminate information to our angling customers and help them understand that the islands are not closed! The Biosphere is here to stay, and as stakeholders and an important user group, we will help steer how it takes shape. I've every confidence it will not only benefit our anglers, but this vital ecosystem as well.”
“Many are concerned as to its impact on our industry. Having had a ringside seat during the creation of the Marine Reserves in the Northern Channel Islands, our concerns are valid with regards to how it may potentially impact our industry, our recreation, our access and most importantly the very resources they are designed to protect.
“Like the Northern Channel Islands, the Los Coronados Islands, a small three-island chain located just 14 miles south of San Diego, are an extension of the northern chain. Their inclusion into the Pacific Ocean Biosphere Reserve is an important measure in ensuring sustainable fisheries and the protection of endemic species.
“At the risk of being redundant, drawing back on my experience when the Northern Channel Islands were establishing ‘reserves’ there was much dissention amongst user groups and environmentalists. Throughout the long and exhaustive process, and throughout countless roundtable discussions, a framework emerged that created a network of reserves striking a balance of preserved vital habitat for endemic species and territory for traditional user groups to continue to thrive.
“I would have to say, the sportfishing community suffered for a period of 5 to 7 years as a result of poor communication as much of our clientele were of the impression that the Islands were closed to fishing.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, there were growing pains as we adjusted to tighter areas, but the Northern fleet has survived, and through management, we look forward to the day where the sacrifice of traditional territory (used as a management measure) will yield the anticipated results of rebuilt stocks and allow future generations to reap the benefits of this management style.”
“With the inclusion of the Coronados, we must remember these islands play a vital role for marine birds, as well as species of fish that are sought after both recreationally as well as commercially.
“Including the islands in the Biosphere is an important step towards conservation and sends a very clear message to the global community that Mexico is a leader in sustainable fisheries and has earned a seat at the table with regards to their marine resources. We welcome this action and look forward to working with planners in the future should there be discussions regarding restrictions on those areas our fleet traditionally accesses.
“I believe we all learned our lesson with the creation of the Northern reserves, and will work diligently to keep our customers/users informed should this measure impact our access.
“We all walk the same line, whether we realize it or not. No one is more interested in sustainable fisheries than we are as vessel owners, landing owners, vessel operators, crew members and anglers.
“Without healthy stocks, we have nothing, concluded Ursitti.”
Stay tuned. Until further notice, nothing is changing until the meetings have concluded.
Pat McDonell is editor of Western Outdoor News.