Gulf of California

EWN to HMO, me voy a Mexico
by -- April 14th, 2015

After plane delays, missed connections, and an unplanned overnight in Phoenix, our full team finally arrived in Mexico on April 10, a day late. Our base for the next three weeks is the Kino Field Station operated by Prescott College on the shores of Bahia Kino. The Field Station takes advantage of all the natural beauty of the Sonoran desert; we all sleep in cots under a simple palapa roof with the rising sun as our alarm clock each morning.

Throughout this course we will be expanding upon four themes and experiencing first-hand what these concepts mean in reality. These themes are:

  • Community
  • Conservation
  • Governance
  • Small-Scale Fisheries

We will be visiting different communities, stakeholders, and influencers from the local to the federal level to get a handle on how what these four themes mean.

Our first case study was the small fishing village of Puerto Libertad, or “Port Freedom,” a bumpy 2.5-hour journey north from Kino. We were invited to Puerto Libertad to learn about the local fishing cooperatives and in particular, their work towards formalizing and commercializing a clam fishery in the area. Explore this map to see where we have been (and check back for updates on where we go).

 

When exploring any of the four themes, it is always important to identify who the various actors are in the story of any place, and Puerto Libertad was home to many interesting and passionate characters. Here are a handful that stand out:

Raymundo Molinares is the President of the local fishing cooperative, Las Resarguardas de Puerto Libertad, intentionally humorous and loosely translated to “the Underdogs of Puerto Libertad.” Raymundo is a jovial man, and was always willing to explain to us the details of his fishery. Ironically, Raymundo was one of the first fishermen to organize in Puerto Libertad, organizing the group of “free fishers,” or those who work outside of formal organization and patron interactions.

 

Gabriel Lopez is the President of another cooperative, Las Mojaras del Recife, “Fish of the Reef” as well as the President of the Committee for Fishing and Aquaculture in the town. We most often witnessed Gabriel shucking raw clams for us to eat, with Raymundo encouraging us to eat more clams.

Gabriel Lopez has been described as a leader in the making in the fishing community of Puerto Libertad. It was obvious to discern from the way he spoke that he is someone who has been inspired by the concept of global conservation, and in turn is trying to make a difference in his local community through ecosystem based management of the local resources. Gabriel spoke multiple times of the global situation of ecosystems, and how his actions impacted the rest of the Gulf of California and beyond.

The fishermen are supported by Communidad y Biodiversidad (COBI), “Community and Biodiversity,” a NGO co-founded by our Professor, Xavier Basurto, dedicated to preserving marine biodiversity in coastal communities. COBI has come to serve a role as an intermediary between the town of Puerto Libertad and the government of Mexico, bridging the gap between two disparate players. In this town, COBI is helping the fisherman apply for the permits for the clam harvesting, with the ultimate objective of ensuring greater marine protection by enabling appropriate management of the fishery.

It was illuminating to see the interactions between the actors I described above, and many others including fish buyers, wives, and even potential political candidates during our time in Puerto Libertad. Although we didn’t hear from any representatives of government, the government was always mentioned as being in tension with the fisherman. The goals of the Mexican government are to reduce overfishing, and their only tool thus far has been shutting down entire fisheries, depriving fisherman of their livelihoods. This has created distrust among fishermen for government and all government officials. In COBI’s role as an intermediary, COBI strives to provide local communities with access to government resources (like commercial fishing permits) and in turn tries to provide the government with accurate information so that the state appropriately manage the nation’s fisheries to hopefully avoid detrimental fishery closures.

In all, we spent two days with the gracious community of Puerto Libertad and witnessed all four class themes in varying capacities. If we can see all of this in the first two days of the course, I’m very excited to see what awaits us in our other case studies.

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