The Mexico Shark Fishing Moratorium Fiasco

Great white shark. Photo by Terry Goss, copyri...

White shark near Mexico's Isla Guadalupe.

In the early 1990s I spent a lot of time around shark fishermen and observing the slaughter of sharks in Baja California Sur. At that time, fishermen had moved over from  the Sea of Cortez where shark populations had collapsed, to focus on an intensive long-line and gill net fishery along the Pacific, concentrating on the offshore fishing grounds of Magdalena Bay, San Ignacio Lagoon, the Vizcaino Peninsula and finally the area north of Guerrero Negro (Los Cirios Coast). At that time rays were also fished intensively due to to the collapse of other fisheries.

Shark dump near La Bocana in BCS, Mexico.

Most of the shark meat and ray meat (used to make machaca) were considered second or third-class fish, which meant a lower price. For sharks obviously it was the trade in fins that drove fishermen to go out 20-60 miles from shore to set long-lines or gill nets. At that time I had not realized that this type of fishing activity was being carried out all over the world and was causing the collapse of shark populations.

I had not also realized the extent to which the obsession with shark fin soup in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China was driving the extinction of the ocean’s most feared, beautiful and interesting animals.

Shark fin soup

Shark fin soup.

WiLDCOAST has been working with Defenders of Wildlife-Mexico and Iemanya Oceanica to curtail the excessive shark fishery in Mexico and to educate the general public through media campaigns of the impact the shark fishery was having on Mexico’s ocean health.

When sharks unfortunately attacked and killed two surfers a few years ago just north of Zihuatanejo (and attacked another surfer who survived) we carried out a successful effort to stop a government sanctioned revenge shark slaughter.

We also worked with organizations like WildAid, Oceana, NRDC, Ocean Conservancy and Heal the Bay to advocate for the ban on the sale of shark fins in California. Our wrestling superhero El Hijo del Santo has been a tireless advocate for sharks and reached more than 30 million people through appearances on news and talk shows on the Telemundo networks to call for the California ban on shark fins.

Hammerhead in the La Bocana shark dump. In some areas, schools of hammerheads are caught in gill nets that also annually drown thousands of loggerhead sea turtles.

Since then we have attempted to work to have Mexico include endangered hammerheads on the CITES list. That effort was squashed by the Mexican government.

So last week, conservationists were surprised and happy to learn that Mexico had proposed a moratorium on fishing all species of sharks and rays. And from this story that appeared on the New York Times blog it seemed very clear that the moratorium would be real:

Mexico announced here plans yesterday to ban shark and stingray fishing starting next year, creating what would be the largest initiative by one nation to protect shark species.

The temporary moratorium is part of a burgeoning global movement against the trade of shark fins used as an ingredient in an Asian delicacy. Mexican authorities said they were inspired by the “shark sanctuary” declared two years ago by Pacific nation of Palau.

“Mexico wishes to share with the international community our intention to declare next year a moratorium on shark and stingray fishing,” said Yanerit Morgan, Mexico’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations on the side of a General Assembly meeting yesterday.

Joined by leaders of a small-island nations and other Latin American states, Morgan said the fishing ban would encompass Mexico’s territorial seas and expansive exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Pacific Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

The goal, she said, was to protect “pregnant female specimen and newborns of the main shark and stingray species.”

Morgan at the Mexican U.N. mission said her country’s decision to establish a moratorium is strictly a domestic initiative and not part of a regional North American or Latin American conservation effort.

“Our decision is a national policy,” Morgan said. “We hope that others can join us.”

Seemed pretty clear. Except it wasn’t. According to my inside sources in the Mexican government there was no plan to have a moratorium. The statement at the U.N. was a “mistake.” One source informed me that here was another proposal for a 3-month moratorium that they were confused about. Another source informed me that the proposal was actually real, but was only a foil in an attempt to pressure Mexican fishery officials (rabidly anti-conservation) to actually enact the 3-month moratorium.

Both sources assured me that a statement from the Mexican government clarifying the situation would be forthcoming.

It has been more than a week and no statement has been issued clarifying anything. Leading shark conservationists in the U.S. I spoke with continue to believe that Mexico is serious about conserving shark populations and the moratorium.

And this morning the New York Times, in an editorial, “A Growing Movement to Save Sharks”, lauded Mexico for its shark  and ray conservation initiative:

Last month, Mexico announced that it would ban shark and stingray fishing beginning next year. This would affect Mexico’s exclusive fishing zones in the Pacific Ocean and in the Gulf of Mexico. Several island nations — Micronesia, the Maldives, Palau, and the Marshall Islands — have already created shark sanctuaries. There is hope that Honduras and Colombia will follow suit, perhaps creating a protective corridor reaching to the Galapagos Islands.

So is the shark moratorium truth of fiction?

These types of policy “wars” in Mexico over proposals used to be carried out domestically in the state-run media. Different newspapers would publish policy proposals by competing factions in a government agency (the Mexican government under the PRI essentially bankrolled the press).

You would always know an article was a political message because it would appear without a byline with a very forceful and badly written statement about a very obscure policy. Another newspaper would carry the same type of article from a competing faction of technocrats calling for a different obscure policy.

Then the issue would vanish from the public spotlight.

What is unfortunate is that in the past, Mexico used to pass far-reaching conservation initiatives because it was worth the positive international media exposure it received–and then those plans would be implemented (to some degree).

Now let’s hope that the Calderon administration is not cynical enough to have carried out a policy war internationally and use the international press to argue over competing proposals–one of which-the year-long moratorium–the government never intended to ever happen.

That would be a shame for sharks and for ocean health.

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Salina Cruz (Oaxaca) Surf Companies Protest Surfing Magazine Article

According to this post on ESPN by surf scribe Kimball Taylor, Salina Cruz surf companies are angry about a funny article about surfing in Oaxaca.

In an email dated September 22, Cesar Ramirez — a local surfer and a cornerstone of the surf tour business in Salina Cruz — asked flatly, “What was the guy who wrote the article thinking?”

The email went on to explain the delicate relationship forged by local surfers, businesses, tour guides, and the foreign surfers they hosted. It posited the rhetorical question of why the name of Salina Cruz hadn’t been spilled in such dramatic fashion before then. “Maybe for respect or friendship,” Ramirez answered. “All was good until today. Somebody with no balls to write his [own] name wrote the s—-iest article a surfer can write … Did it without respect and in the lowest form of professional ethics.”

The interesting aspect of this email, however, was that it carried weight:

“I hearby advise everyone that there has been a meeting between the local surfers in Salina Cruz including all the surf camps and as a result to this disgusting article … as of now, for 2 years foreign photographers and videographers are not welcome in Salina Cruz, doesn’t matter what surf team or what magazine they work for.”

Of the enforcement tools listed, the first was a legal one: an inspection of a photographer’s Mexican work visa — something few, if any, surf photographers obtain. The second tool was a bit more mercurial, depending on, “if we are in a good mood.”

Here is my comment on the ESPN site:

It is unfortunate that surf operators in Salina Cruz chose to proclaim a “fatwa” against international media coverage of surfing in southern Oaxaca. The irony of course is that it is the surf companies themselves that promote Salina Cruz as a destination through their websites that even include maps and site information.

Mexican tourism and surfing companies can’t have it both ways–they can’t complain about the unfair media coverage of violence in Mexico that has literally killed tourism and then threaten the only journalists and media companies who are promoting Mexico as a positive and beautiful place to visit.

I find it regrettable that these local operators would actually threaten physical violence against journalists which is a federal crime in Mexico. Few other countries direct as much violence against journalists as Mexico. This surfing “fatwa” is really a product of the unfortunate history of authoritarian rule and political culture in Mexico that has resulted in the deaths of many reporters.

The key issue in southern Oaxaca to remember, is that an indigenous community such as Barra de la Cruz has developed a very interesting and so-far positive tourism management plan that benefits the community rather than outside surf companies.

Other Chontal communities along the coast are following suit. It is important that visiting surfers respect the real locals on this coast–the historically marginalized and poverty stricken Chontal communities who view small-scale surfing tourism as a way to promote sustainable and community development and keep out Huatulco-style mega-projects.

What is lamentable is that local surf companies don’t see the real threat here–from Mexican agencies such as FONATUR that is continuing its ongoing campaign of destroying Mexico’s pristine coast to build mega-resorts that no one will come to.

Oaxaca Dreams 2011

Here is a video slideshow from our summer Oaxaca adventure. One of my best surf trips ever.

Los Tres Amgos Part II: Surfing in Mexico

My sons made this second video of their recent Mexico surfing adventures with their buddy Josh.

The Three Amigos Surf Video

My groms made this video in sloppy mid-morning surf in Oaxaca.

The Road to Barra

The road seemed endless. After ascending the highway along the 7,000-foot elevation pine-covered peaks that separates the valley of Oaxaca in south central Mexico from the Pacific Ocean, I expected a long but easy descent.

I was wrong.

Although we only had about 130 miles to reach the coastal resort town of Huatulco, we had another four hours of the windiest, curviest, scariest two-lane highway imaginable.

Members of Oaxaca’s diverse indigenous communities hiked along the highway that was lined with villages precariously perched among the pines along the steep cliffs.

Women in traditional garb balanced their heavy loads on their heads. Others carried machetes on their way home from work.

The drive was made worse by the simple fact that Darren Johnson and I had spent the previous night on a red-eye flight from Tijuana to Oaxaca. Joey Fallon dropped me and Darren’s families off at the Tijuana airport at 10 in the evening.

Israel and Daniel waiting to go through immigration at the TJ airport.

Our flight departed Tijuana at 2 a.m. and arrived in Oaxaca, considered one of Mexico’s most traditional and beautiful capital cities, at 8 a.m. After picking up our small rental cars, we made our way southwest to the Pacific.

Josh, 14, was the first to vomit. Darren notified us via walkie-talkie that he had to stop. After a stretch, I found a slight turnoff on the wrong side of the highway next to a tree-covered deep ravine and halted. Darren followed.

As soon as my sons Israel and Daniel exited our Chevy, Israel projectile vomited.

Everyone gets sick on the Oaxaca to Huatulco highway.

Three hours later, after descending from the pine trees into thick coastal rainforest, we found Huatulco. After purchasing supplies and groceries, we finally reached our destination for the next two weeks, a brightly covered beach house tucked away on a remote cove protected by rocky headlands on each side.

The point down the beach.

The surf was sideshore and about 4-5 feet. Daren, Josh and my two sons claimed the thumping beachbreak peaks in the middle of the cove. I walked down and made a stab at the hollow peaks breaking off the point.

We were all reminded of how the crunching power of the surf in southern Mexico.

The waves pitched quickly and unforgivably.

The next morning the boys woke at dawn to patrol the point, and eventually joined a group of groms from the nearby village.

Israel practiced his Spanish. The local groms were pleased to share hoots when someone inevitably scored a barrel.

When the wind turned offshore in the afternoon the surf picked up considerably and the boys enjoyed another round of hollow zippers.

The next morning it was even bigger. The boys were the first ones out, and I could see them pull into a few choice barrels as I walked down the beach.

The sets were overhead and powerful. I cautiously dropped in on a few shoulders.

The boys charged.

“Josh got a stand up barrel,” Israel yelled.

Darren, a goofy-foot, paddled out. Fit and trim at 45, Darren still surfs like a teenager.

As a set approached, I scrambled to get outside. I caught the biggest wave, managed to make the late drop, raced down the line, straightened out in the soup, then got hammered in the whitewater.

We all came in. It was time to hit Barra.

The groms at Barra.

Barra de la Cruz is considered one of the best places in the world for waves. A sand bottom point that winds down the beach in perfect cylinders, Barra is the subject of countless surf films and has even served as the location of a Rip Curl Pro Search surf contest.

These barrels have become a magnet for surfers worldwide.

A set at Barra.

After a short drive, I parked the car and the boys jumped out to check the surf.

The waves were perfect and the lineup was crowded. The boys grabbed their gear and raced down the beach eager to sample a few of the waves they day-dreamed about for years.

The long drive down the never-ending highway was worth it.

Me on a fun one.

Fighting Mega Projects in Guerrero

When we arrived in Zihuatanejo a few weeks,  we learned about plans by FONATUR, Mexico’s tourism development agency to build a new mega-tourism project on top of the Barra de Potosi mangrove wetland and coastal area. Here is the video of our press conference denouncing the project.

Baja Travel Update: My Interview in Surfline

# 53           Los Cabos 3559

Image by Carlos Villamayor via Flickr

Surfline published this interview with me, Sean Collins and Gary Linden

(who had the Green Lantern surfshop in Imperial Beach when I was a kid)

on tips for staying safe in Baja. I’ve just included my interview:

The tragic and ongoing Narco-war South of the Border has many potential visiting surfers on edge, unsure whether to make the trek south — and if so, how to minimize chances of ending up in a dangerous situation. With this in mind, Surfline asked three frequent and longtime Mexico travelers for advice — on when to go, where to go, and how to stay safe. Many of the suggestions are the same as they’ve been since the ’50s. Some are new. All are worth a quick read if you’re thinking about a trip. 

Note: this is NOT an exhaustive list on avoiding the perils and pitfalls of travel to Baja. (Nor does it even begin to bring up the issues involved in travel to Mainland Mexico.) It is three very well-qualified surfers’ perspectives. For those serious and concerned, there are a series of useful related links at the bottom of this feature. For those who have stories and/or advice, please leave them in the comments below. –Marcus Sanders

Baja surfing

Image by Dom Edwards via Flickr

Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST, an organization that works in both California and Mexico to conserve coastal and marine ecosystems. He is the author of the new book, Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias. He has been traveling throughout Baja California and in Mexico since 1972. Here are his thoughts:

The security situation has improved significantly since 2007 when a string of robberies and assaults against surfers and a Baja 1000 race crew resulted in most surfers abandoning the idea of traveling to Baja. Over the past three years, the Mexican government spent a lot of time and resources making the highway in Northern Baja safer and overall things are much better than they were. Southern Baja, along with Oaxaca, is considered one of the safest areas in Mexico.

Baja surfing - Larry

Image by Dom Edwards via Flickr

Overall, the level of crime has decreased in Baja. Really, most of the violence and problems are concentrated in Tijuana. Don’t travel through there at night. I travel to Ensenada a lot to surf San Miguel and visit the WiLDCOAST office there and haven’t had any problems or talked to anyone who has had problems recently.

The risk is greatest for surfers who believe that Baja California is like it used to be and they don’t need to take any precautions when traveling there. Bummer is, that Baja has become just like any other area in the developing world where there are problems with crime. Being clueless in Baja is no longer an option. But if surfers are careful and avoid hanging out in areas like Tijuana, most likely they’re going to have a great time South of the Border.

Baja surf

Image by Dom Edwards via Flickr

Camping anywhere in Northern Baja should be done in established camping areas or surf spots where you are not alone and potentially a target for criminals. The increase in the use of crystal meth in Northern Baja, especially anywhere in the area of San Quintin and Colonet, means that there is a greater chance of having problems if you are camping on an isolated part of the coast. South of El Rosario things are generally fine. I spend a lot of time camping and surfing the most isolated part of the coast between Guerrero Negro and El Rosario and haven’t had a single problem. Last summer I took my kids on a 2,970 mile round trip tour of Baja and hit most of the peninsula’s great surf spots. Everyone was super friendly and helpful, we didn’t have any problems at all, and caught some great waves.

Baja surf

Image by Dom Edwards via Flickr

But Baja is back in a big way and surfers need to show that we care about Baja and demonstrate that our tourism dollars are an important source of revenues for Mexico. The more we show that surfing has a positive impact on the economy in Baja and the rest of Mexico, the easier it is for organizations like WiLDCOAST to convince Mexican authorities to conserve coastal areas that have great waves. Surfers have a lot to contribute to Mexico. We have made great friendships, have influenced the development of surfing in Mexico, and have had a positive impact on communities such as San Juanico, Punta Abreojos, Todos Santos, Puerto Escondito, Saladita, Sayulita and the East Cape.

“The risk is greatest for surfers who believe that Baja California is like it used to be and they don’t need to take any precautions when traveling there.”
–Serge Dedina, executive director, WiLDCOAST
The road runs the entire length of the Baja Ca...

Image via Wikipedia

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USEFUL LINKS:

How safe is Mexico? Data on U.S. citizen deaths from the U.S. State Dept — Comprehensive feature by Fodors, posted March 11, 2011.

Is Mexico safe for Spring Break? — USA Today travel section, posted March 9th, 2011.

US State Department Mexico Travel Warning — Updated September 2010

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LOCAL RESOURCES

Baja Crime Hotline: 866-201-5060 — To report a crime or if you need help.

Green Angels
The Green Angels are similar to the AAA in the U.S. The Green Angels are a government paid bilingual crew that patrol the toll roads throughout Mexico every day in green trucks, carrying tools and spare parts, looking for motorists in trouble. The Angeles Verdes will provide mechanical assistance, first aid, basic supplies, and towing. The services they provide are FREE of charge unless your vehicle needs parts or fuel. If for some reason you need assistance call “060” (Mexico’s version of 911) or pull to the side of the road and lift your hood, this will signal the Green Angels that you need assistance or contact them Toll Free 24 hours seven days a week at:
Baja California Highways Emergency Toll Free Numbers:
* 01 800 990 3900: Tijuana – Ensenada & El Hongo – La Rumorosa Toll Roads
* 01 800 888 0911: Tijuana – Tecate Toll Road

US EMBASSY LOCATION:
The U.S. Embassy is located in Mexico City at Paseo de la Reforma 305, Colonia Cuauhtemoc; telephone from the United States: 011-52-55-5080-2000; telephone within Mexico City: 5080-2000; telephone long distance within Mexico 01-55-5080-2000. You may contact the Embassy by e-mail or visit the Embassy website.

In addition to the Embassy, there are several United States consulates and consular agencies located throughout Mexico, listed below.

CONSULATES:
Guadalajara: Progreso 175, Col. Americana; telephone (52) (333) 268-2100.
Tijuana: Avenida Tapachula 96, Col. Hipodromo; telephone (52) (664) 622-7400.

CONSULAR AGENCIES:
Acapulco: Hotel Continental Emporio, Costera Miguel Aleman 121 – Local 14; telephone (52)(744) 484-0300 or (52)(744) 469-0556.
Cabo San Lucas: Blvd. Marina Local C-4, Plaza Nautica, Col. Centro; telephone (52) (624) 143-3566.
Cancun: Plaza Caracol Two, Second Level, No. 320-323, Boulevard Kukulkan, Km. 8.5, Zona Hotelera; telephone (52)(998) 883-0272.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Hotel Fontan, Blvd. Ixtapa; telephone (52)(755) 553-2100.
Mazatlan: Hotel Playa Mazatlán,Playa Gaviotas #202, Zona Dorada; telephone (52) (669) 916-5889.
Oaxaca: Macedonio Alcala No. 407, Interior 20; telephone (52) (951) 514-3054 (52) or (951) 516-2853.
Piedras Negras: Abasolo 211, Local #3, Col. Centro; telephone (52) (878) 782-5586 or (878) 782-8664.
Playa del Carmen: The Palapa, Calle 1 Sur, between Avenida 15 and Avenida 20; telephone (52)(984) 873-0303.
Puerto Vallarta: Paseo de Los Cocoteros #85 Sur, Paradise Plaza – Local L-7, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit C.P.; telephone (52)(322) 222-0069.
Reynosa: Calle Monterrey #390, Esq. Sinaloa, Col. Rodríguez; telephone: (52)(899) 923-9331

MORE SURF NEWS
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Blue Ocean Tour in Southern Baja

 

From April 2-7 I will be touring the Cape Region of Baja California to show the Blue Ocean Film Festival “Blue on Tour” ocean documentaries and give talks on my book Wild Sea.

APRIL  2nd:  San Jose Organic Farmers Market, 10am-2:00pm

APRIL 2nd:  TBD

APRIL 3rd:  Los Barriles Art Festival, Hotel Palmas De Cortez Los Barriles

APRIL 3rd: Vinorama Country Club, East Cape, 6pm

APRIL 4th: DREAMS Spa and Resort, @ 6:00pm

APRIL 6th: Sculpture Francisco Merino Galeria @ 6:30pm

APRIL 7th: La Esquina, Todos Santos @ 7:00pm

When I am there I look forward to seeing old friends, making new friends, and surfing the crystal clear blue water of the East Cape and Todos Santos–two of my favorite places in Baja.

 

Surfing Guerrero

In between what were very long days in the Mexican state of Guerrero last week during my Wild Sea/Blue on Tour trip, Ben McCue and I managed to snag a few waves along what is a very undersurfed region of Mexico. Thanks to Pato, Cat, Lainie, Mike and Kristy for being such great surf hosts. And to Ben for being such a great conservation and surfing colleague.

 

We scored 3-5' fun waves at Playa Bonfil just south of Acapulco. This was our last morning and the only morning we surfed there (the day before was probably better but we had to leave our hotel very early for a TV interview). Acapulco is the largest coastal city in Mexico and allegedly has a large surfing population of surfers and only one other guy was out. Mainland beachbreaks have a special quality--hollow, crisp with lots of power--that you just don't find anywhere else. Photo: Ben McCue.

 

Ben and I pulled into the first available parking/beach access at Playa Bonfil. We parked in front a palapa that was also a sea turtle conservation camp and found these two WILDCOAST stickers pegged to their sign (the Santo sticker is ours).

Saladita. When it is bigger this is a fun wave for me. When it is smaller it is a Malibu style longboard wave or the perfect place for a fish or a mini-Simmons. This besides 1st point at Scorpion Bay and San Blas is about the best beginners wave on the Mexico coast

Pato, an activist from Michoacan now working in Saladita on agricultural and communty development ripping it up at a rivermouth we surfed one day. Pato is a super dedicated surfer/activist and a great guy to surf with. Photo: Cat Slatinskly

Pato gets another one. Pato and I surfed this spot with just a few people out. Reminded me of the Sloughs shorebreak when it is good. Photo: Cat Slatinskly

Me on my 6'6" Novak quad--this board worked great everywhere. Cobblestone rivermouth breaks are my favorite type of wave--they are so playful and versatile. Lefts and rights. My first mainland Mexico trip was back in 1982 at a rivermouth break further north up the coast. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Kristy Murphy of Siren Surf Adventures on a 5'10" Novak mini-Simmon's hybrid. Kristy is a former Women's Lonbboarding World Champion and she rips. She spends most of the winter in this area. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Here's Ben McCue working on his power snaps. Ben grew up in Santa Cruz and was like a little kid in a candy store on these left points. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Pato head a really nice power style, typical among Mexican surfers used to surfing good waves by themselves (his style reminded me of Ismael Arce of Punta Abreojos). The surf was about 3-5' with some 6' sets that came through later in the day. Photo: Cat Slatinskly.

Kristy setting up for a big cutback. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Ben going right. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

When we left, the surf was picking up and the lineup was almost empty. Classic mainland! Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

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