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PEOPLE & VOICES - Illegal Tuna Pens & Gill Nets

Sportfishing vs. Tuna Pens and Illegal Gill Netting

by Dann Manz

I want to address what I perceive as a serious problem in Baja. I live in northern Baja, near Ensenada, which used to be called the Yellowtail Capital of the World. Today, yellowtail are almost nonexistent in this area. White sea bass are also not visiting our area with any regularity. The question then becomes, "WHY?"

To me, it is as plain as the nose on my face. Tuna pens (a floating round netted enclosure to hold and raise tuna) are having a huge impact on sportfishing in Baja. Today Baja has eight permitted tuna pen operations. They feed the tuna three times a day, six days a week. Sardines are their favorite food. This year 300 tons of tuna were raised, and 95 percent are sold to Japan at $9.50–$45 per pound, depending on the size of the fish. The larger the fish, the more it is worth per pound.

So, in order the get the tuna to their highest value, they have to be fed huge quantities of food. In order to feed the tuna, the tuna companies own boats that scour the ocean looking for the proper food—sardines and anchovies. The problem is that is exactly why a yellowtail would want to come to Ensenada. They like sardines and anchovies, also. If they come to the store and the store is out, they go elsewhere, where the shopping is better. So, our sportfishing industry is suffering due to a few rich men who own these tuna pens.

Sportfishing can represent a huge portion of the economy of a city like Ensenada. Sportfishermen spend money in motels, marinas, restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, etc. The decline in sportfishing is very apparent every weekend. The charter captains are also noticing a decline in reservations and fish.

The other problem the tuna pens are causing is pollution. They will refute it, but, again, it is only common sense to see what is happening. When you crowd hundreds of large tuna in a confined space, and feed them large amounts of food, their excrements are also going to be in a confined space. That is pollution! Nitrogen in large doses to the ocean in a small area changes the environmental equilibrium of that ecosystem. Pelagic fish (fish that migrate seasonally) will avoid areas of pollution and look for bluer, cleaner water, where they can also find dinner.

Another reason for the extinction of the sportfish is the illegal gill netting that is going on, at least in my area. I fish Ensenada Bay at least once or twice a week. I see all the buoys, pop bottles, corks, etc., that mark the illegal gill nets. I have witnessed the nets being pulled and set. Most of the time trolling becomes an obstacle course. I have lost dozens of expensive lures that get snagged in the poorly or unmarked nets.

I know of only one licensed gill netter in our area. I know where his nets are, so I can pick out the illegal ones. I have witnessed small boats running up on shore, before they get to the boat launch, and a guy will jump out with a burlap sack or two over his shoulders. He then climbs up the hill to meet up with a vehicle waiting for him, thus avoiding any possible run in with authorities. They are all blatant in their activities. It is done in the daytime or after dark. There is no enforcement that I have ever seen. I have been fishing here for four years and have never been stopped or asked for my fishing license (which I always have). I understand the economy is slow, but I don’t see how that gives illegal gill netting the OK to continue.

I also fish the local estuary. I have seen the same activities going on there that I see in the ocean. I have never seen any authorities in the estuary, nor do I think they care. Mexico has decided to turn their heads the other way when it comes to the ocean, the fish and the environment. I don’t understand why, as the Mexican government is losing huge amounts of money, with the reduction of sportfishing in the area.

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