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CONCERNING SHARKS AND DOLPHINS

by HOMERO ARIDJIS

from REFORMA, Sunday, July 20, 2003

While in Mexico the species that most prosper are the sharks of unregulated capitalism and the 'dauphins' of political parties, the sharks of the oceans are suffering harassment that has no historical precedent. They, with their extraordinary ability to detect their prey from afar have become the prey themselves to these people. Through the Do Food Co. Ltd. shark fins, cartilages and liver oil are being exported to Thailand from the State of Sinaloa. Each month four tons of fins leave Mazatlan to satisfy oriental appetites. One ton fetches 50,000 dollars on the international market.

Sharks, which are to be found in every sea in the world, although mostly in tropical and sub-tropical waters, have roamed the oceans for the past 350,000,000 years. There are also species of shark that feed on plankton, like the whale shark, the largest fish in the ocean, that reaches 23 meters (75 feet) in length). The whale shark frequents the Sea of Cortez, especially around the Bahia de Los Angeles, where the ecosystem will assuredly suffer irreparable damage if SEMARNAT (Ministry of the Environment) approves the environmental impact statement for the ill-fated Escalera Nautica project.

About 100 tons of shark are captured every month in Mexico. For every ton of dried fins, 200 - 250 tons of live shark have to be c aught, which entails an additional annual capture of between 2,500 and 3000 tons. Since the catch has plummeted in Sinaloa because of over-fishing, the shark has to be caught at the entrance to the Sea of Cortez and along the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur. And along with the shark fishing there is the incidental by-catch of species supposedly reserved for sport fishing.

The permits have been issued by Dr. Jeronimo Ramos, head of CONAPESCA (National Commission for Aquaculture and Fisheries), an organism that seems to work exclusively for large and medium-sized vessels, and against coastal fishermen. Three quarters of the fishing resources of the country are being over exploited, following a series of six year presidential terms during which ministers and officials granted permits to national and foreign industries.

There is too large a fleet for too limited resources. And the shrimp boat fleet continues to grow even though the catch diminishes year after year. The number of boats fishing for swordfish (with sharks as an incidental by-catch), went from 12 in 1990 to 48 in the year 2000, most of them of foreign extraction. With their drag nets, many of the boats that came from Japan and Korea decimated the depths of the Sea of Cortez and the Mexican territorial waters of the Pacific. To increase the catch they have used more efficient and terrifying equipment, for example, exchanging the two kilometer drift nets for long lines (with their thousands upon thousands of hooks) of eight and a half kilometers. The result of this policy over the years has been to impoverish traditional fishing communities along the coasts of the country and to cause the fish stocks to plummet.

According to Dr. Carlos Villavicencio Garayzar, from the laboratory of Elasmobranquios at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, the strategy and policy of Conapesca and National Chamber of the Fishing Industry, is to maintain open fishing in coastal areas in order that production continue at an industrial level. At this time the battle is being waged over Norma (Regulation) 029, which regulates the capture of sharks, and scientific-technical research. Dr. Villavicencio is of the opinion that the aim of the fishing industrialists is to do away with the Instituto Nacional de Pesca (National Fishing Institute) so that the future of fishing resources will be in government offices, with no research program. Recently, based upon a supposed investigation, they wanted to allow a foreign sardine factory boat, capable of processing 6,000 tons of sardines, onto the West Coast of Baja California. Anything goes in Mexico.

Ever since SEMARNAP became SEMARNAT, and thereby ceded control of the fishing industry to SAGARPA (Ministry of Agriculture), there has been fighting between the two ministries, since the one seeks to conserve the resources and the other to exploit them, but at an unsustainable rate, leading to losses that cannot be recovered. As occurs with attempts to preserve any kind of species, forest or ecosystem in Mexico, those who seek to plunder the shark for their own profit, resort to the worn-out argument of sinister foreign interests who oppose national sovereignty, to attack those trying to protect species in national waters.

It may be that our country has the greatest diversity of shark species. The permits issued for its capture serve to encompass the incidental by-catch of dorado, marlin and swordfish. It is essential that Norma 209 become law, but to protect these species, not to facilitate their capture by the fishing industry. The oceans are endangered, their populations are in decline, and by continuing in this way the decline could become unrecoverable. Mexico will have played an important role, not only in the disappearance of several species of sharks, but also of many other marine species.

DOLPHINS

A few weeks ago there occurred the largest and most brutal capture of dolphins in recent history. In the Solomon Islands fishermen captured some 200 dolphins in consideration of a promise of $400 for each one. And the mammals are being held waiting for their transportation from Honiara to - oh, surprise - Mexico, a country that appears to be becoming the center of the illegal industry of dolphin trafficking, an extremely cruel and inhumane industry. According to the environmental group Australians for Animals, dozens of dolphins will be imported by the Parque Nizuc Company, near Cancun. The individual said to be responsible for the transaction is one Mauricio Martinez de Alba. We can certainly expect more dolphins to be imported before laws against it come into effect.. In any case, Mexico, as a signatory to CITES, should not allow these imports. Permission for the capture was negotiated by Mexicans in Honiara with the authorities in the Solomon Islands. According to Brian Baldwin, the British High Commissioner in the Solomon Islands, this country is undergoing a crisis of governability, with serious economic problems and an absence of the Rule of Law.

After being captured in nets, the dolphins were transported by boats to places of temporary imprisonment. Conditions in the floating cages on Gela Island are horrifying: the water is no more than one meter deep and the only exercise the dolphins receive is when their Mexican trainers throw them fish. According to our sources, Parque Nizuc is paying 250,000 Australian dollars for the dolphins, who will later be sold to marine parks in Europe. This is an insult to local traditions, because in some parts of the Solomon Island it is taboo to harm dolphins, as there is a belief that persons with magical powers can be transformed into them.

It is imperative that Mexican authorities cancel the permit that some irresponsible functionary issued to harm the dolphins, and also, that measures be also taken against these pillagers of marine mammals so close to man, and that the dolphins be returned to their freedom in the ocean.


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