Guest blogger: Juan Carlos Villaseñor-Derbez (MESM 2017)
I have no idea where I am headed. It’s been about an hour driving north on a narrow, green road and I am more distracted by the wild beauty of the Mayan jungle than I am worried by my final destination. I turn to Mario, my colleague this summer from Comunidad Y Biodiversidad (COBI) , and ask him where we are going. He smiles, laughs a bit, and explains: “We are headed to Chiquilá, a small town in the North of the Yucatan Peninsula. From there, we will take a ferry to Holbox.”
Holbox is a small island just at the intersection of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The mixing of these two bodies of water makes this area a productive and important region for local fisheries. The area is also home to one of the largest whale shark aggregations in the world, protected by the Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve. Due to the island’s beauty and ecological importance, it has been designated as part of the Yum-Balam Flora and Fauna Protection Area.
The remote location of Holbox and Chiquilá — 100 miles from Cancun, the closest city — and the lack of regulatory oversight present challenges when it comes to enforcing fishing regulation. Fisher compliance in these areas tends to be low, if not null. In addition, the long distance to large cities makes accessing markets difficult. Together, these factors hinder the economic growth of the fishing communities in the region.
Like many other small scale fisheries, the only way fishers from Chiquilá andHolbox believe they can increase revenues is by fishing more, further depleting local fisheries. This often results in a cycle where fishers fish more as fish stocks decline, and fish stocks continue to decline because fishers fish more. In the end, fisheries collapse and so do the coastal communities that depend on those resources.
To help combat these trends in Mexican fisheries, COBI is working to empower local fishing communities, helping to improve administrative practices, access new markets, and modify fishing methods that yield larger revenues. Their next stop is Holbox.
In Holbox and Chiquilá, lobster is one of the most important fisheries. It’s selective and sustainable, though current techniques are limiting fishers’ profits. In this region, fishers use “ganchos”—a hook tied to the tip of a one-meter long, thin metal rod—to fish for lobster. Fishers are able target individual lobsters that are above the minimum catch size, but given the technique, they can only salvage the lobster tail for markets.
Using ganchos, fishers receive $300 Mexican Pesos ($16 USD) per Kg of lobster tail (about three tails make one Kilogram). Nevertheless, fishers miss out on a more lucrative market, where live lobsters could be sold at three times the price. But how does one catch a live, spiny, and fast swimming lobster?
Well, fishers from the Cozumel fishing cooperative have mastered a technique to fish for live lobster. They still use the one-meter long rods, but have replaced the hook with a loop, calling this new tool “lazo”, a bit like a mini cowboy´s lasso.
This week, COBI has arranged for fishers from Cozumel to visit Holbox and teach other fishers how to use their lazos. Cozumel’s fishing cooperative was awarded in 2015 with the “Ecological Merit Award,” a federal recognition of their sustainable fishing practices and success as an organized cooperative. For two days, fishers from Cozumel teach fishers from Chiquilá and Holbox how to catch live lobster with the lazo.
Empowering fishing communities and providing new methods allows fishers to make more money without having to fish more. Reducing catches protects our marine ecosystems, and increasing prices provides fishers with better livelihoods. The work that COBI is doing is a big step towards improving fisheries management in the region. As an intern, I am looking at how marine conservation can have a positive impact in coastal communities. Stay tuned for more updates from Mexico!
Juan Carlos Villaseñor-Derbez is a Latin American Fisheries Fellow (LAFF) from Mexico, and a MESM 2017. This summer he is interning with Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI), where he is gathering social and ecological data in coastal communities around Mexico. This information will be used in his group project entitled “TURFeffect: Providing a framework to evaluate the effectiveness of no-take marine reserves in Mexico”. For more on his group project, visit: www.turfeffect.org.