Mexico’s First Citizen-Funded And Run Vigilance Program Starts
In 2007, Sea Watch with their attorney Maria Ugarte and armed with 1000s of emails from Sea Watch supporters, sponsored a new federal regulation to ban compressors (hookah gear) for any fish extraction in all Mexican waters. It was approved in late 2007. For the last 12 years hookah divers using nets during the day and spearguns at night have killed over 90% of the reef fish. These two illegal techniques (YouTube Video Hookah Divers Are Killing The Sea) account for 60 to 70 percent of the fish in the markets during the spring and they are the reasons the reefs in BCS and in the Sea of Cortes are empty. Sea Watch then fought for the next 2 years to get the approved ban passed into law. That just happened!
So, on July 1st, 2009 – a new vigilance patrol program called “Observatorio Ciudadano” was begun in La Paz by Plataforma Bahia de La Paz and is off to a successful start – on the first 3 nocturnal weekly vigilance trips, contacts were made with approximately 20 boats fishing illegally (View Trip Reports) and pictures (Vigilance Team Working). The vigilance programs goals are threefold. First, is to patrol night and day to make contact with fishermen, disseminate information and discuss problems. Second, to stop illegal acts like hookah divers using nets during the day and spear guns at night to clean the reefs of fish. And third, to build a net of fishermen, citizens, dive businesses and the cruising community that will work together to report illicit acts. Plataforma attorneys will then file denuncias (lawsuits) and encourage (pressure in the press) officials to prosecute the violations.
Plataforma Bahia de La Paz, a group Sea Watch helped start three years ago, has formed this civil society sponsored, funded and run vigilance program, formally called “Observatorio Ciudadano” or OC. Plataforma is an open group to all interested. It is pluralistic and multisectoral, comprised of local fishermen, concerned citizens, lawyers, scientists, businesses and business people and most of Mexico’s strongest NGO’s and was formed in response to the problems and opportunities that confronted the Bay of La Paz and is intended to be a model for sustainability for the region. One of it’s main goals is to fight illegal fishing activities and stop the massive destruction they inflict on all areas of the Sea of Cortes. Two decades ago, ninety percent of the Gulf’s marine life was intact. Now many experts claim only about ten percent remains – the majority of damage due to non-stop, invasive illegal commercial fishing practices.
The program is being initially funded by Sea Watch. Mike McGettigan, founder of Sea Watch states, “We have always felt you have to start with Vigilance and enforcement. Otherwise you set up marine protected areas, marine parks, sanctuaries, biospheres, etc. and they immediately become the private fishing grounds of the strongest illegal fishermen. There are fishermen that fight (and pay) to have the rights to fish in the protected areas.” He continues, “Plataforma is now quite strong in BCS and is supported by Mexico’s largest NGO’s. Plataforma has become a force to be reckoned with and a strong voice in the BCS community.”
Through this Plataforma program, anyone can report illegal fishing activities anonymously without fear of retribution either in person, by phone, radio or email. All illegal activity is recorded weekly by the patrols and reported to all pertinent authorities. Plataforma attorneys will then file denuncias (law suits) and a list of illegal activities and the perpetrators will also be published in the La Paz paper every 20 days – It will list the boats stopped, the denuncias filed, what the authorities have done to date and the final resolution (fines issued). Mike McGettigan, founder of Sea Watch states, “It will be a score card that encourages the authorities to do their job which is to arrest boats fishing illegally and prosecute them.”
With an OC patrol boat and a seaplane working night and day in the area of theBay of La Paz and the lower gulf Islands, from Santa Cruz to the north to Isla Cerralvo to the south, the OC staff talk with fishermen (both commercial and sports) about the laws governing the area, check documentation, permits, fish catches and hands-out brochures with printed regulations. The patrols also look for illicit acts and report them in real time via iridium phone to the authorities and to Plataforma so that official denuncias (lawsuits) can be filed against the illegal acts and later followed up on to be sure the illegal acts are properly punished.
The goal of Plataforma is to get the vast majority of honest fishermen, both commercial and sports fishermen, as well as the cruising community involved in detecting and reporting illegal acts, thereby creating a net of concerned people with the common goal of protecting the Bay. (Join Plataforma and help) The OC patrol boat is run by people also trained in sea rescue. They carry oxygen and other emergency equipment and can communicate immediately with the navy and other agencies via Iridium satellite phone from anywhere in the sea.
The OC Vigilance Patrols protect 120 miles of coastline and 6 lower gulf Islands for about $1500/week. It’s worth your support!
View latest photos of Las Islotes reefs that are already benefiting from the new vigilance patrols.
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