May 4, 2010

Managing Reef Fisheries in Mexico

By Reef Check's Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson and Program Manager, Outreach & Mexico Mary Luna

Currently, most Mexican fisheries for species like grouper and snapper are managed by permits only, with no fishing quotas, so there is no limit on catch. Mexico has been lucky. Some 75% of the world’s fisheries have either collapsed or are overfished, however, there are still fish to catch in Mexico – particularly on both sides of Baja California. But for how long? Following the success of Reef Check partnering with the Mexican NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI) to create a sustainable marine aquarium fishery in the Gulf of California, the question was raised if we could apply the same strategy to reef fish caught for food on either side of the Baja peninsula. Interestingly, this same question currently faces fishery managers in the state of California in the US. More on that later.

Reef Check and COBI held a fisheries management Workshop on April 8 and 9 to examine this question. The Workshop participants reviewed monitoring methods, stock assessment models and new analytical approaches that could be used to help manage coral reef and rocky reef fin fish species of the Baja Peninsula. The workshop was led by Dr. Andrea Saenz Arroyo of COBI and Dr. Gregor Hodgson, RC’s Executive Director, and was hosted by the School for Fields Studies (SFS) in Puerto San Carlos, on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico at the edge of the famous Magdalena Bay. Participants came from several non-profits and government agencies.

Francisco Fernandez, a COBI marine biologist, presented the case study of the small aquarium fish cooperative \”Mujeres del Golfo,\” in Loreto, and explained how the women have successfully applied MAQTRAC to sustainably manage their aquarium fishery. The MAQTRAC methodology was developed by Hodgson and ichthyologist Dr. Domingo Ochavillo as part of a larger project for managing the aquarium trade in far away South East Asia. It consists of two manuals, one for field data collection, and the other for data analysis and calculation of fishing quotas. The basic issues of monitoring, analyzing and managing fisheries are the same everywhere. The major difficulties involved in trying to monitor reef fish species are that data are difficult and expensive to obtain either direct by observation by divers or through experimental fishing or surveys of fish catch. Because fish are often caught and sold by numerous small scale fishermen in different locations a major issue is simply tracking the catch.

The Workshop participants concluded that shallower species can be monitored using the MAQTRAC methods on scuba. For deeper water species, data will be obtained primarily from fishing log data. As a start, MAQTRAC analytical methods will be used to calculate fishing quotas for some of the fin fish species targeted by the Cooperative of Magdalena Bay. Results will be tracked after a catch quota is implemented on an annual basis. Other ideas discussed to help sustainably manage fisheries were enforcement of fishing areas, establishment and implementation of marine reserves, increased organization and collaboration of fishers.

Reef Check also monitors most commercial rocky reef fish in the US state of California where the Marine Life Management Act now requires the government to develop fisheries management plans for each species. So far, fisheries biologists from NOAA and California Fish and Game have developed plans for major commercial fish species. But the issue of limited data has been a hindrance in developing plans for some reef fish species. Now that four years of Reef Check data are available for California, we hope that we can assist Federal and State agencies to develop similar approaches to managing data-poor reef fish fisheries in the US.

Thanks to COBI and SFS for their support in making this workshop happen, and to the Magdalena Bay Cooperative, Grupo Tortuguero, and Niparaja for attending. To download the MAQTRAC manuals please click here. Workshop participants included, Leonardo Vazquez, Alejandra Meza and Mario Rojas from COBI, Dr. Gustavo Hinojosa from SFS, Alfonso Velez from the Magdalena Bay Cooperative, David Maldonado and Alejandro Rodriguez from Grupo Tortuguero, Daniel Vasquez from Niparaja, and Mary Luna from Reef Check.