Conversations with Fishermen

April 19, 2019

On our first field day in Mexico, we set out around 11 a.m. to the working waterfront in Kino. Although our day was just beginning, these fishermen had been since hours before daylight fishing for sierra mackerel with gillnets from their white and blue pangas. In previous years, fishermen drove their boats straight up onto the beach, approaching with speed and lifting the engine out just as the water got too shallow. However, some recent thefts of the 4-stroke outboard engines used by these fishermen has led them to change their methods. These days the fishermen have someone with a truck bring trailers to the beach and haul them out of the water. Since fishermen now spend less time on the beach, we were not able to talk with them there, but we found some fishermen in town who had just unloaded their catch. They were very willing to show us the mackerel, mullet, grouper, and other fish they caught, and they talked to us about their family tradition of fishing and diving for octopus. Unfortunately that day, their catch was quite small, but they hoped to sell some of the fish and save the rest to make ceviche for their friends and family for the holiday of Semana Santa.

The next day, we left the station early to make the 3 hour trek to Puerto Libertad, another fishing town situated on a beautiful section of the Sonoran coastline. Through our connection with a local fisherman named Gabby, we were able to go talk to some shark fishermen who had just returned and starting cleaning their catch of smooth houndfish. Like the fishermen in Kino, the shark fishermen told us that they did not have a great catch, even though each of their 3 boats had caught about 100 sharks. As in the mackerel fishery, these sharks are targeted with selectively placed gillnets. Often gillnets are known for having large amounts of bycatch because they catch almost anything that swims into them. However, according to these fishermen, they are very good at targeting sharks exclusively by knowing the seasonal movement patterns and adjusting the net depth and mesh size. Also, they will set a test net for 30 minutes to check to make sure that the fish in the area are primarily sharks. Although many shark fisheries are highly unsustainable and have decimated populations worldwide, I was encouraged to see that maybe these fishermen have found a way to efficiently and hopefully sustainably utilize a shark species. These experiences talking with fishermen have definitely been the best part of the course for me so far.