Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fish Farming in Baja - A Solution to NOM-029?

Provide mouth-watering fresh, fish flesh for sushi lovers abroad and in the U.S., and profit-making ventures for commercial and local Baja business interests, while perserving the sanctity of the Sea of Cortez at the same time? Sounds almost too good to be true!

But it's not. Fish farming is a viable - and maybe the only - alternative to destructive fishing practices that are decimating many species of fish that call the Sea of Cortez home. Tuna farming in Baja does currently exist, but the goal by environmental orgranizations and scientists is to push for sustainable, ecologically-safe fish farms.

According to the 2005 article, Sustainability Assessment of Capture-Based Tuna Aquaculture in Mexico, written by the MSATAM Team (Marine Science Assessment of Tuna Aquaculture in Mexico), "... tuna farming in large nearshore net pens has expanded rapidly along the Baja Pacific coast north and south of the Tijuana-Ensenada Corridor. Mexican tuna are now estimated to comprise 10% of global tuna production (35,000 tons)."

The article also states, "Tuna ranching/farming is one of the fastest growing forms of aquaculture in the world today."

Farmed tuna - that use wild-caught fish (primarily Pacific Bluefin Tuna) that are kept in pens and fed small fish such as sardines - are sought-after for sushi due to the higher oil content of the fish. High-quality seems to fetch a high price. According to the article above, "Farm gate prices for Mexican farmed tuna are currently reported to be $12,000/ton.".

This article, Say Hola to Tuna From Mexico! describes the fish farming process in detail. The fish farms in Mexico should be more accurately called 'ranches' or 'capture-based tuna farming' because wild tuna are used for both stock and feeds. It states, "A true 'farm' would be one in which fish are raised from egg to adult stages in captivity...".

Tuna farms that use wild stock can devastate the habitat they come from. In the U.S., capture fisheries have decimated tuna stock in the Atlantic. Researchers and environmental organizations are trying to help prevent that from happening in the Pacific as well.

(From the article) Barry A. Costa-Pierce, a Professor of Fisheries and Aquaculture at the University of Rhode Island, states, "It is urgent that we develop an internationally credible scientific basis for sustainable tuna farming that could decrease pressure on tuna stocks, while also being environmentally and socially sustainable."

These efforts would also provide a viable solution to NOM-029, by giving commercial (and local) fishermen an alternative to over-fishing the Sea of Cortez. Fish farms could provide a means for profit-making and meet product demand for Baja fish coming from Japan (the majority of exports), the U.S. and elsewhere.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Help Save the Sea of Cortez & Overturn NOM-029

The fight to stop over-fishing in the Sea of Cortez has an extensive history. In October 2002 the Mexican Senate, with support from then president Vicente Fox, cancelled NOM-029-PESCA-2006, also known as Shark NORMA. Sea Watch and other environmental organizations had spent over $60,000 U.S to fight it.

Their victory turned into defeat May of 2007 when president Felipe Calderon passed a new NOM-029 into law. The reason? Commercial interests wanting the right to harvest more fish and make more money. Much of the demand for Baja fish comes overseas from Japan, where bluefin tuna can sell for as much as $45 a pound.

For a brief snapshot of the economic realities at play read the 2004 article Tuna Barons by The Fisherman's Voice.

A good article describing the basics of NOM-029 and the danger it poses to the health of all organisims that call the Sea of Cortez home is Marine Life Threatened in Sea of Cortez at ESPN.com

The Billfish Foundation, and their partners in Mexico, have retained an attorney and begun a series of legal procedures to fight for the modification of NOM-029 and to stop destructive fishing practices. The process and an outline of current actions taken by TBF are described in their online article, Mexican Senate Confronts Shark Norma Negotiations.

Help stop destructive fishing practices and protect the future of the Sea of Cortez.

The International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) and other conservation organizations such as Sea Watch and The Billfish Foundation ask that you demand that NOM-029 be suspended until the following modifications are included:

** Prohibit commercial fishing in the 50 mile protected zones
** Address bycatch so that game fish may not be incidentally targeted and sold
** Regionalize fishing permits to evenly distribute fishing effort
** Vigilant enforcement of commercial vessels by the Armada de Mexico
** Stock assessment and catch and effort data be utilized in making management decisions

This information is included in the online article New Regulations in Mexico Threaten Marine Life in Sea of Cortez on the IGFA website. They have posted a link to an automated email system. Click on each politician's name, type in your full name and click 'submit'.

A pre-formed letter outlining the reasons NOM-029 should be overturned or amended is then sent to the politician in your name. A simple and easy way to have your opinion heard.

I will contact the above organizations by email, and ask to be informed if any new developments occur so that I can post a blog entry about it. Every little bit counts.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

NOM-029 & Saving the Sea of Cortez

Vicente Fox may be gone from the political scene but hopefully some of his legacy will be revived. Five months after taking office, his presidential successor Felipe Calderon signed NOM-029 into law, a bill that many say legalizes destructive fishing practices in the Sea of Cortez.

Called a conservation catastrophe by The Billfish Foundation, NOM-029-PESCA-2006 is a measure that allows commercial longlining in coastal waters of the Sea of Cortez. Prior to NOM-029, commercial vessels were not allowed to fish for or possess marlin, sailfish, dorado and other protected species within 50 miles of the coastline. Only recreational anglers were allowed to fish in these protected zones.

The bill allows long-line fishing from more than 3,000 skiffs, with 350-hook lines, as close as 10 miles from the shore. Medium-size vessels, up to 233 of them with 1,000-hook lines, and enter the Sea of Cortez for massive catches (and bycatches) as close as 15 miles.

It seems ironic that a bill intending, supposedly, to protect a select few species, allows for activities that are decimating other protected populations of fish in the Sea of Cortez. And decimating they are. Sea Watch observed, filmed, and did the math.

Here is one days worth of destruction by a few commercial fishermen, totaled up (by Sea Watch): “Two boats caught around 400 dorado – 110 hooks and 53 dorado on each of them. Each boat had 5 km of longline with 600 to 700 baited hooks in the water. Multiply these numbers by the numbers of boats fishing and you suddenly have 5,000 to 10,000 small dorado being taken from Baja waters on any given day.”

More information and photographs are posted at the following locations on the Sea Watch website:

** SHARK NORMA 029 CONTINUES TO KILL PROTECTED SPECIES

** SHARK NORMA 029 STILL ALLOWS DRIFT GILL NETS CLOSE TO SHORE AND WHALES ARE EVEN DYING FROM INGESTING THE NETS

NOM-029 may currently be law, but the battle to save the marine life of the Sea of Cortez is hardly over. Laws, especially when counter-productive, can be overturned or amended. The following three paragraphs - quoted from a May, 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times – illustrate both sides of the issue, and why NOM-029 is a misguided attempt to protect species such as Blue and Hammerhead Sharks and the Giant Ray in the Sea of Cortez.

Paragraph #1 “NOM-029 limits fishing pressure through permits and imposes gear and area restrictions designed to ensure sustainability. It bans the capture of certain sharks and rays; phases out of drift gill-nets; and outlaws finning, or slicing fins from sharks and throwing their writhing bodies overboard.”

** Why GreenPeace currently supports the bill **

Paragraphs #2 & #3 “But it does not adequately guard against exploitation of "bycatch" species such as dorado, or mahi-mahi, marlin and sailfish – species that gave rise to sportfishing-related tourism and supposedly are off-limits to commercial fishermen.”

“Long-line hooks do not discriminate. Marlin, sailfish and dorado fetch a higher price than sharks, which are already depleted. So it's reasonable to assume the bycatch species are really what the fishermen are after.”

** Why opponents are doggedly fighting it **

Next weeks blog entry - what you can do to help these and other organizations fighting to overturn NOM-029 and save the Sea of Cortez and all its inhabitants.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cardon Cacti & Saguaro Cacti - One in the Same?

Soaking up information on all things Baja like a beach-marooned sea sponge after a summer's drought, I believed everything I was told when first moving to the Peninsula. Pretty much. Don't even think of asking me about 'whale turds'!

Case in Point (another case): Cardon cactus is the same as saguaro found in the U.S., they are just called by different names. No, they are not the same but different, distinct species I now know. Here's the skivy.

The cardon cactus (Pachycereus pringlei) is the world's largest cactus. They are one of over 1000 species of cacti found on the Peninsula (sources vary on this number, some saying 800 species, others 1200, so I took the middle road...). They have been measured at nearly 21 meters (70 feet) high and can weigh up to 25 tons. Cardon cacti have been estimated to live over 3000 years.

The cardon is native to Baja where it exists in large numbers. A small number of these cacti can also be found in Sonora, Mexico on the mainland, a part of the Sonoran Desert region that encompasses areas in the U.S. and Mexico.

The saguaro, on the other hand, is not native to the Baja California Peninsula and is rarely found living there. A small number of saguaro cacti are found in Sonora Mexico on the mainland also, but they are primarily located in the southwest desert of the U.S. in states such as New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Cardon cacti and the saguaro are similar in that they are both columnar cacti, with vertical framework that allows their trunks to expand to store large amounts of water when it is available, then contract when water is scarce. This is why they look similar, and many think they are one in the same.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula