On Tuesday, the Governor’s Fish and Game Commission will make an ocean conservation decision that can be historic. They can establish an ocean legacy by creating a network of marine reserves from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.
For inspiration, they can look just down-current. On Mexico’s Baja California peninsula marine reserves are becoming a reality.
For example, a group of halibut fishermen representing more than 80% of fishers in their community, Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, have banded together to create a Fisherman’s Reserve at one of America’s hottest ocean hotspots.
The extensive Magdalena Bay complex is known as the San Francisco Bay of the south. The waters off of the bay teem with life and productivity. Upwelling and nutrient rich outwelling from the mangrove-lined bay result in plankton-rich waters that give rise to swarms of millions of pelagic red crabs—literally turning the ocean red with these palm-sized animals. That’s where it all begins. Tuna, halibut, squid, sea turtles and even whales feed on these crabs. Birds flock to the region as do dolphins and sharks. And fishermen too.
Miles of gillnets set on the sea floor to catch California halibut and other bottom fish work well. Too well. Halibut numbers are down. And worse, in the process of chasing down the remaining fish thousands of sea turtles are caught. Most die and many wash up on the beach dead during the summer fishing season. Marine mammals, such as dolphins and sea lions, as well as non-food fish and invertebrates are also among the casualties.
Here’s the twist: the fishermen of the region have responded to this situation by joining scientists to accurately document the problems. They’ve satellite tracked 40 turtles and counted thousands of dead ones. They’ve measured their effort and experimented with new net configurations.
Their conclusion? They want a special no-fishing zone that overlaps with the core of the hotspot. And they want it now. This weekend they’ve organized a sea turtle festival and have invited Governor Narciso Agúndez Montaño to inaugurate it. Visitors from Japan, U.S. and Cuba are among the attendees. They’ve sent a delegation to Mexico City to lobby for the reserve. And they’re promoting sustainable sea turtle tourism as part of the package.
Fishing won’t cease for these men. On the contrary, by working with scientists they found that not only will this plan help the sea turtles, it’s also more cost effective to set their nets closer to shore, away from the hotspot.
Meanwhile, just north of the border in California, ecological sustainability and economic prosperity are viewed as competing rather than complementary objectives, sound science is overlooked or maligned for political gain, and stakeholders with more in common than they think are endlessly battle each other.
Sound science, collaboration and decisive action. Hopefully the Governor’s Fish and Game Commission will learn from this lesson in conservation from Baja California, Mexico.
See: Grupo Tortuguero
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