A Sea in crisis

19 Jan

Richard and I set out yesterday for a couple of hours of random kayaking, with no specific destination in mind. We had only covered a mile or so when we were witness to a most marvelous spectacle, 2 adult Humpbacks feeding vigorously, with a very young calf in attendance. There was only 1 other kayaker who noticed them and we were given a private showing for over 40 minutes of a sight most have seen only on nature shows. We sat still as they moved around us, feeding on the massive amounts of krill in the water. A couple of times they were within 30 to 40 feet of us. We watched them until they had moved a long ways away before we continued on our journey. Regardless as to how many times I am privileged to witness whales in their natural habitat, even after all these years of being on the water; it still takes my breath away!

Humpback feeding on her side

We’ve seen Blues, Fins, Seis, Greys, Humpbacks and Brydes, many dolphins, Basking Sharks, Whale Sharks, and Turtles and have always considered just a glimpse of these great creatures to be very special, yet there are some down here who could care less. They see not the beauty of the Sea and the creatures within it, only what they can take from it…

Up until the 1950’s, the Baja and Sea of Cortez was a virtual unknown to the rest of North America. Then Ernest Hemingway discovered the fabulous sport fishing that was available here. Extremely large Sailfish, Swordfish, Wahoo, Yellowtail, Grouper, and Rooster Fish swam in the waters here and were completely undisturbed by any fishing pressure, until then. It became a wealthy mans play ground, with large World Record adult fish extremely common.

Foreign commercial fishing fleets introduced change beginning in the late 1970’s with monofilament gillnets. A new road was built down the peninsula during those years, creating much easier access and with it came a dramatic increase in sport fishing activities, spearfishing, as well as a large population increase, producing for the first time ever a flow of pollution into the Sea.

A decrease in size and number of fish species was very noticeable by the late 1980’s. Fortunately by that time the Mexican Government had started to introduce regulations and set aside areas that became Marine sanctuaries and parks.

Not only do fish live here but a great many of the worlds whale populations come into the Sea every year as part of their southern migrations. Greys and Humpbacks both use the lagoons and bays of the Pacific side to give birth and mate, as well as the warm salty waters of the Sea of Cortez. Minke, Sei, Bryde, Blue, Fin, Humpback, Right, Grey, Beaked Whales, Pygmy and Dwarf Sperm Whales, as well as their full sized relative, and Orcas, not to mention at least 11 species of Dolphins and 1 Porpoise, are all here at some time during the winter months, and some live here year round.

On a calm day, whales can be found just by their blow sound!

These mammals come here to mate, give birth or simply to feed in the rich waters of the Sea, and therein lays the problem.

For those Rorquals or baleen feeders, life is pretty good here because the massive amounts of krill hasn’t been affected much over the years, though it has decreased somewhat due to pollution runoff. There is still enough of it out there to look like a Red Tide and has been mistaken for it, from time to time. When out kayaking it looks like the surface of the water is alive. It is this banquet that brings in the massive Whale Sharks over the winter and there is more than enough to share around.

Humpback feeding on krill

The toothed whales are the ones having the problems here. They are fish eaters and the fish they eat are quickly disappearing.

Sport fishing is still one of the biggest tourist draws here and it brings in a big chunk of change to the local economy. It contributes to the decline in baitfish and there is also a correlation between losses of feed fish with those that predate on them. Without something to eat, the bigger fish and whales either move to new feeding grounds or die out!

My father used to say, “Any idiot can catch a fish using bait, it takes a fisherman to catch a fish on a lure!” and he was right. It is much easier to catch a fish using bait and over the years the number of anglers has increased dramatically, putting huge pressure on the various bait fishing stocks. Anything small enough to constitute bait has been fished almost completely out. Some folks down here have complained bitterly that they can’t find any bait this year, and the fishing is very bad!

These are the same folks who have fished out their own waters and since they can’t catch anything there, see nothing wrong with moving somewhere else and using the same methods that devastated their own fisheries.

Day after day, all winter long they are out there taking anything and everything they can catch. They can hundreds of pounds to take home with them, so they can have cheap fish all summer until they return next winter. They are so fanatic about it that they can’t bring themselves to release anything. Many have been known to bring fish that are inedible back to the beach simply to give to their friends to use as dog food! Catch and release is not in their repertoire and it doesn’t occur to any of them to use lures. If asked why not they’ll tell you that lures cost too much and bait is free!

And so the toothed whales find themselves having to compete for their very existence with arrogant, greedy, unthinking humans, who also complain that there sure isn’t much whale activity this year. I guess that old saying really is true, that we see only what we want to see and we hear only what we want to hear.

Sorry for the rant, but after having spent most of my adult life in the fishing industry at home in the so-called “Salmon Capital of the World” and seen it’s demise; it’s hard to watch the same thing happening here in “Paradise”.

What’s that line from the old Eagles song? “Call someplace Paradise, kiss it goodbye!”

Yes, I made a living from the Ocean, but I was always aware of the impact I was having and tried constantly to compensate for it. When we do go fishing, which doesn’t happen very often anymore, we take only what we can eat in the next couple of days and are very careful to release anything we don’t intend to kill.

The Mexican government is trying; fishing licenses are required and there are strict regulations, including limits and number of rods allowed, but there is no money for enforcement and a great many of the gringos here simply ignore them. They get incensed when they are expected to follow the rules and seem to believe that laws in foreign countries don’t apply to them. The Government has also stopped all foreign commercial fishing and has taken control of what commercial fishing there is, but it may be too little, too late. The locals are very poor and the last financial crisis made it even harder here to earn a living, so they fish illegally. They take any fish or shellfish they can find and it’s hard to blame them when all they’re trying to do is eat and feed their kids. We are talking a Third World Country here, and they do have much bigger infrastructure problems, but it would be nice if those visitors who are big users of the resource would step up to the bat and help, instead of simply helpingthemselves to everything they can lay their hands on while whining about lost fishing opportunities.

The big adult fish are few and far between now and only occasionally are really large fish brought to shore. The big Dorado tournament held in Loreto every summer was won this year by a 16-pound fish. Dorado used to run up to 90 pounds. Not many of any species are seen in that range anymore. Sure, once in a while a fish over 60 pounds is landed but before Baja was “discovered” 60 pounders were the norm, and they were plentiful. Now anything over 10 pounds is considered a good catch, if you can find anything to take your hook.

All, however, is not lost, as the expert consensus seems to be that though the Sea is in crisis, it’s still salvageable. Keep your fingers crossed because otherwise we can add the Sea of Cortez to the list of seas, oceans, rivers and lakes that we, as humans, have managed to destroy based on nothing more than our own greed!

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5 Responses to “A Sea in crisis”

  1. bank accounts offshore January 20, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    My friend John not long after confided in me Bills always bringing me fish and they just go bad in my freezer but I hate to hurt his feelings..Dont let yourself be either of these guys. If somebodys offering you fish thank them for their generosity but kindly suggest that they let em swim next time..A simple look at Selective Harvest is just this harvesting only the fish you intend to use for food and releasing the rest of your catch unharmed.

  2. leekfamily January 26, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Wow, you look like you too are having way to much fun. Great photo’s, love your home page picture, reminds me of that Corona beer commercial.Great writing,I enjoyed reading about your adventure’s. Hope you don’t mind, Anne gave me your Blog. Stay safe,and see you soon.

    Darrin

  3. טיולים February 2, 2011 at 3:55 am #

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    • Alexis Thuillier March 27, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

      Thank you and I hope I can continue to keep writing new and interesting things!

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