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Lax laws and enforcement killing Cortez

Tucson Citizen

15th June 2004

The lovelorn may cling to hopes of "plenty of fish in the sea," but the adage no longer holds true in the once-abundant waters of the Sea of Cortez.
As scientists, marine biologists and Mexican fishermen all attest: Marine life is disappearing at an alarming rate from Tucson's nearest sea.

Shark and sea turtle populations are at 10 percent of the levels seen 50 years ago, experts and close observers say.

The chief culprits are indiscriminate fishing and insufficient oversight, as documented in the Tucson Citizen's two-day series, "Sea of Cortez - disappearing underwater world.” The series concludes today.

When Mexican fishermen get permits to fish for shark - which scarcely exist in the Sea of Cortez anymore - they use them to snare other species that now are being depleted, just as the sharks have been.

And when Mexico itself fails to outlaw gill nets and hook-laced longlines - which snag and kill untold schools of swordfish, dolphins, mahi-mahi and other fish, along with sea lions, turtles and seabirds - then the government in essence condones the obliteration of its richest natural resource.

The U.S. government, likewise, purports to forbid importation of fish caught in this manner. Yet about 9 million pounds of swordfish imported from Mexico between 1999 and 2003, along with more than 14,330 pounds of mahi-mahi imported this year, undoubtedly consisted largely of improperly obtained fish.

Mexico also fails to enforce even the lax fishing regulations it does have in place, so endangered turtles snared in gill nets end up in soup pots.

Solutions will be difficult, since 10,000 families depend on fishing - now at barely subsistence levels - for their income.

Still, with so much at stake for Mexico - from its own fishermen to the economically imperative tourism fishing industry - something must be done.

Gill netting must be banned. Revenue from $60 to $650 fishing permit fees should be pumped directly into enforcement of laws to sustain Mexico's marine life. No longer should all Sinaloan waters be overseen with just four 200-horsepower boats.

In addition, Mexico's fishing regulatory agency, CONAPESCA, should be reunited with its species protection agency, PROFEPA, to ensure protection of endangered marine life.

These efforts constitute the absolute minimum proactive effort Mexico must make to safeguard its economy, its future in tourism and the incomes of its tens of thousands of fishermen-headed families. Such action is long overdue.

Relates articles from the Tuscon Citizen
Sharks, turtles disappearing

Fisherman's take from Sea of Cortez: squid

The Sea of Cortez is in danger.