By Theresa Peterson, AMCC Kodiak Outreach Coordinator
When fishermen go on vacation, we often gravitate to fishing ports. Like a magnet we are drawn to the docks to meet the fleet and learn about the commercial fisheries that make it work for their fishing community. This January, I found a model of success upon visiting the small fishing port of Abreojos, Mexico with my family.
Located midway down the Baja peninsula, just 10 miles above San Ignacio Lagoon, this fishing community manages its fishery resource for long-term health and the maximum benefit of community members.
The only source of food and income for this remote community comes from the ocean. These waters are some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, and founding families established a co-op in 1948 as a means to survive in the harsh desert climate. They harvest abalones, caracol snails, lobster, oysters, scallops and many different fish. After 65 years, the town is not only surviving, it is thriving due to the opportunity found in commercial fishing and whale watching. Many are fishermen most of the year and then act as guides in the whale-watching season.
“We fishermen are very happy with the job we have done, the conservation of the area, and the example we have set for the world. We fish responsibly and protect the resources that are the source of life for everyone,” said Javier Villavicencio.
Currently there are about 60 boats and more than 100 members. While following all Mexican fishing rules, the co-op hires a biologist to monitor stock status to fine tune optimum yield for the various high value species. If they see a drop in population for red lobster, they increase the size limit and reduce the harvest through a cooperative decision. If abalones are still spawning they hold off fishing, regardless of whether or not the fishery is open.
Most of the lobster and abalone is direct marketed live to China and Japan and local fishermen supply all the seafood for the whale watching camps during the season. Fishing supplies hundreds of support jobs and the co-op has given millions to fund community services greatly valued by the residents, such as schools and churches. The community has taken ownership of the fishery and the community is getting the maximum return on their catch. The model has been so successful that nine other fishing communities and the San Ignacio Guides Association has followed it.
In San Ignacio, one of three lagoons in Baja where gray whales come to give birth, the guides have formed a co-op with lagoon conservation and respect for the whales front and center. There is an established a whale viewing zone in the lagoon, which is limited to 90 minutes per session, with no more than 16 boats at a time. The activity is monitored by a guard that is hired by the co-op. The region is as pristine as it was hundreds of years ago and local residents have fought off all large hotel chains and corporate interests looking to mine salt. Jesus Mayoral of San Ignacio was involved with a video capturing this model of success and shared the following with me:
“It was an amazing opportunity to show that by managing ourselves, and our resources, it can be a win-win situation. If we take care of our resources, there is the hope they will be there for our children and our grandchildren, and so on. Our goal is to leave things a bit better for each generation, while educating people and sharing the gray whales with all.”
Watch the video, Destination Baja:
See more on Alaska Public Media/PBS: http://video.pbs.org/video/2286020756/
As stewards of the marine resource we can all continually learn from each other. My family will long remember the experience in Abreojos — a name that translates to ‘open eyes’. It was certainly an eye opener for all of us and wonderful to see a small isolated fishing community in Baja thriving under community leadership.