By Mary Luna, Reef Check’s Program Manager, Mexico
“It’s no fish ye’re buying, it’s men’s lives” reads a quote from The Perfect Storm, a fishing story based off the coast of Boston. I presented our work on sustainable seafood in Mexico at the 2012 International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS) with Santa Monica Seafood (SMSF) and their Responsible Vendor Program. During the presentation, I talked about our partnership in Magdalena Bay, on the Pacific side of the Baja California Peninsula, in Mexico. The Magdalena Bay Cooperative, one of the oldest in the area, closed part of their fishing concession to all types of fishing in 2009 to rebuild the stocks of commercial species such as abalone and lobster. SMSF’s funds are partially funding the salary of the son of a local fisherman to go out with fishers on their boats and collect fisheries-dependant data that will serve to estimate fishing quotas. The presentation was an opportunity to introduce the efforts of the Baja fishers and organizations like Comunidad and Biodiversidad (COBI) to an international audience.
I also attended the “Development of a Regional Seafood Marketing Coalition, the Gulf of Mexico Experience” presentation, and found many similarities between the needs and goals of Gulf fisheries with those of Baja. Presenters talked extensively of preserving local jobs and creating a brand to represent and increase awareness of Gulf seafood, garner support, and affect purchasing. Job and identity preservation is a shared goal among fishing communities in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and Baja.
Small-scale fishing employs over 90% of fishers worldwide. In Baja, the level of organization of small-scale fishers varies from one community to the other; most or all of their income, however, comes from the sea. Baja products are overall wild, and include spiny and blue lobster, shrimp, abalone, octopus, giant lion’s paw scallops, snail, yellowtail jack, sea bass, halibut, among many others. Many of these fishers are already working with non-profit organizations such as COBI to get their products evaluated under the sustainability criteria of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
A great need still remains to improve product handling and basic infrastructure, so that the high quality of the Baja marine products can be preserved until they reach the supermarket shelf. Groups such as SMSF, Central Seafood Coast and FishWise are already assisting these fishers in bringing their products to international standards; their efforts will no doubt generate a supply of high quality, sustainable seafood from Baja. We continue to work on improving the supply chain, and I hope next year we can return to the IBSS with a group of our Baja fishers and samples of their products, so that seafood companies can see the quality of their products, and hear the stories behind them.