September 18, 2021

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As tourists pour in, local fishing falters

SAN FRANCISCO, MEXICO – Juan Flores claims to have been the first fisherman in San Francisco, a small coastal town in the western state of Nayarit. At that time, in the 1970s, he paddled in the Pacific Ocean in a small canoe-like boat called a cayuco and caught the fish one by one with a “hand” technique, laying only one hook-tipped rope in the water.

A generation of hand-line anglers followed Flores, who remains lean and agile. At 77, he still fishes every day, from early morning to sunset. He still uses only a rope and a hook as he cuts the shallows that hug the mountainous coast, guided by experience and instinct.

But much more has changed.

San Francisco, whose population is approximately 1,400, is now part of the so-called Riviera Nayarit, which has developed into an international tourist destination. And commercial vessels with huge nets have allegedly depleted the region’s fish population and exhausted the hand-line fishermen, whose lifestyle once defined the culture and identity of Mexico’s west coast.

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Maya Piedra, GPJ Mexico

Florentino Padilla cuts a sawfish caught by fishermen from Rincón de Guayabitos, 24 kilometers (15 miles) north of San Francisco. One day recently, Padilla and her crew only caught 66 pounds (30 kilograms) of fish, not even enough to cover the cost of gasoline, he says.

In the past, the daily levy of a small fisherman could be as high as half a ton (about 453 kilograms). Today, fishermen say, they catch a splinter.

“Before, we didn’t have the devices to locate fish,” says Flores’ brother, Florentino Padilla. “But we went to certain places we knew, and we were sure to find [them]. “

The Riviera Nayarit, which occupies more than half of the Nayarit coast, stretches over 180 kilometers (112 miles) and features, among other things, beaches and rivers, swamps and mountains, hot springs and waterfalls.

The waters of Nayarit once teemed with fish. But many of its most popular and valuable species are disappearing, including cod, pejegallo (rooster fish), various types of snapper, and totoaba, which can weigh up to 300 pounds (136 kilograms).

Maya Piedra, GPJ Mexico

Martín Padilla, owner of the only fish shop in San Francisco, intends to pass it on to his son, Christian Padilla. “The sea is big, but the population is bigger,” says Martín Padilla. “If we continue like this, we’ll run out of fish.”

Climate change hasn’t helped. Excess carbon dioxide, which lowers oxygen levels, and decreased marine life, which affects water temperatures, have both contributed to the loss of some species along the west coast.

A 2019 report by the government of Nayarit found that for over a decade “the fishing sector has lived in unsustainable conditions”, compromised by a number of problems, including “the excessive exploitation of fish resources, the excessive capacity of fishing fleets , [and] the increase in the population of fishermen and poaching ”. Another state report notes that illegal trading networks are common in Nayarit waters.

San Francisco is located in the municipality of Bahía de Banderas, home to the largest bay in Mexico. Most of the residents of Bahía de Banderas work in tourism-related services.

On a typical day, commercial ships move in pairs along the San Francisco coast, while one boat carries fishermen and the other tugs oblong nets – known as seines – that rake up tons of fish in hours.

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Maya Piedra, GPJ Mexico

Mario Mendoza, left, a San Francisco restaurateur, and María García say consumers are responsible for the poor conditions of Nayarit commercial fishing. “As consumers,” says Mendoza, “we have more responsibility when we request a species from the supplier because, in the end, we pay.”

To protect their market, commercial fishermen lower prices, flattening profits for small-scale fishermen, says Martín Padilla, another of Flores’ brothers and owner of San Francisco’s only fish shop.

Mario Castillo, 23, one of San Francisco’s youngest fishing captains, says dozens of hand-line fishing boats once crowded the coast of the Riviera Nayarit. These days he sees less than half a dozen.

What is happening in San Francisco is reflected throughout Mexico, which boasts the longest coastline in Latin America. According to government data, 589 species of fish are being caught commercially, of which 87% are overfished or on the verge of being overfished.

People like Miguel Linares, 36, who comes from a fishing family, no longer depend on water alone for a living. He also works as a chef. “Fishing is not as safe money as a salary,” he says. “We went up to a month without taking anything.”

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Maya Piedra, GPJ Mexico

A group of hand-line fishermen prepare to launch a boat off the San Francisco coast.

In recent years, the Nayarit Riviera has gained global raves as a tourist spot. Luxury hotels like the Four Seasons and St. Regis have arrived and the region has attracted famous visitors, from Beyoncé and Lady Gaga to Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow.

More restaurants offer seafood and tourists and restaurateurs know little about the conditions of commercial fishing in Mexico. Consumer demand is a silent culprit for fishing depletion, says Myrna Bravo, a marine biologist and research professor at the University of Guadalajara.

Tuna and dorado, known worldwide as mahi-mahi, are popular with tourists, Bravo says, although catching the latter commercially is illegal in Mexico.

Tourists are happily oblivious. Diana Pérez lives in Aguascalientes, a city in central Mexico, but loves to vacation in San Francisco, 500 kilometers (311 miles) west, where she eats fish every day. He doesn’t think about it much.

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Maya Piedra, GPJ Mexico

Mario Castillo, left, and his brother Roberto Castillo hold a traditional leather handle.

“The information is not very accessible and we consumers are not very interested either,” says Pérez, 34. “All that matters to us is taste”.

Some commercial fishermen admit the ecological damage of the technique. Juan García, 43, has been fishing all his life and both his father and grandfather were hand line fishermen. Using a large rectangular net known as a gillnet, it catches up to 3 tons (2,721 kilograms) of fish per day.

But to restore the ocean’s ecosystem, he says he’s willing to stop fishing for two to three years.

If everyone went back to line fishing, the fish would come back, says Castillo, the young fishing captain. Economic interests make it unlikely, but he swears he will never use the networks. “Sometimes we don’t even pay back what we spend,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean we have to damage the sea.”


[ https://globalpressjournal.com/americas/mexico/tourists-pour-local-fisheries-traditional-anglers-flounder/ https://d26toa8f6ahusa.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/30214746/a-quiet-place-part-2-bigs-16.pdf
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