Watershed decision for the conservation of marine organisms

Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Mexico City, Mexico
When Official Mexican Norm (known as NOM in Spanish) 029 on shark and ray fishing goes into effect today, it will make it possible to regulate one of the fisheries with the greatest impact on endangered marine species such as sea turtles, whales and sea lions. The populations of many shark species are decreasing, making it imperative to regulate their capture in order to stop the depletion of these populations, according to the following environmentalist organizations: Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental, COMARINO (Conservation of Marine Mammals of Mexico), Defenders of Wildlife México, IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare - www.ifaw.org) and Greenpeace México.
Shark fishing is mainly carried out with drift gill nets measuring close to two kilometers long, as well as long lines of up to 70 kilometers in length with thousands of hooks. The drift gill nets have been called walls of death because they catch all marine organisms.

These nets are the main threat to cetaceans. Most of the captures around the world occur in gill and drift nets, in the case of whales, dolphins and porpoises (84% of captures), for seals and sea lions (98% of catches)[1]. In the Gulf of California, it is estimated that the capture of marine mammals in this type of nets equals 86.6% of the total catch[2]. In fact, it is believed that for each marine mammal that dies on a long line, nine die in the shark gill nets.

An estimated 150 long line boats and about 4,973 small fishing boats known as pangas participate in traditional fishing in the Pacific. Between the boats and pangas, more than ten thousand turtles are caught a year. Nevertheless, the mortality rate is higher in the gill nets, since the long lines allow the turtles to come up to breathe. According to data from Semarnat (the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources), 1-3 turtles are caught per cast, and it is believed that for every turtle that dies on a long line, 40 to 120 die in drift nets.[3]

NOM 029 prohibits fishing in the lagoon systems along the western coast of the Baja California Peninsula to protect the birthing grounds of the grey whale, as well as in Bahía de Banderas to protect the humpback whale.

“With the enactment of NOM 029, Mexico is keeping its national and international commitment to protect sea turtles. NOM 029 protects 95 zones where these species nest and feed. Bycatch is one of the greatest dangers faced by species such as the leatherback turtle which is critically endangered. Without this norm, the conservation efforts being carried out in the nesting areas of the sea turtles would be nullified as the baby turtles saved would only grow up to be caught in nets and lines”, said Juan Carlos Cantú, program director of Defenders of Wildlife de México.

“Finally, shark fishing will be regulated and finning, which is a major cause of the population decrease in Mexico and the world, will be banned. In addition, it will prohibit catching three shark species that are endangered, such as the whale and white sharks, three species of sawfish and five giant mantas, and it creates 10 refuge areas for sharks where they feed, reproduce and grow”, said Beatriz Bugeda, director of IFAW for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Yolanda Alaniz, vice president of COMARINO, declared that: “By enacting NOM 029, Mexico will be keeping its international commitments such as the UN resolution of November 10, 2004, which asks all countries to ban shark finning and adopt measures for the conservation of these species, as well as to apply measures to eliminate bycatch of marine turtles, whales, dolphins, sea lions, among other non targeted species, which are also protected by Mexican law.”

“One of the greatest threats to sea lions are the shark fishing nets. It is estimated that in some sea lion colonies, up to 10% have become tangled in nets which are mostly used for shark fishery. Up to 84% of the entanglements are adult females of reproductive age. The norm establishes a ban on shark fishing along a five kilometer strip around the sea lion colonies,” said Alejandra Serrano, coordinator of biological diversity for the Centro Mexico de Derecho Amiental (Mexican Center for Environmental Law).

“NOM 029 reconciles the three fishing sectors: sport, shore and industrial. In spite of this, pressure is still being exerted by the sports fishing sector to stop the norm, in order to seek greater benefits. The norm has already been discussed for many years and has a scientific basis; they cannot want to stop it now. If the shark norm does not go into effect, the serious situation of the shark and ray populations may worsen, as there is not currently any regulation at all of this fishery,” said Alejandro Olivera, coordinator of Greenpeace’s ocean campaign.

[1] Read, A. J. R, Drinker P. y Northridge S. 2003. By-Catches Of Marine Mammals In U.S. Fisheries and a First Attempt to Estimate the Magnitude of Global Marine Mammal By-Catch SC/55/BC IWC
[2] Gallo-Reynoso, J.P. 2003. Mortandad de mamíferos marinos en el área de Guaymas debido a la interacción con las pesquerías. (Moratlity of marine mammals in the Guaymas area due to interaction with fisheries) Centro de Investigación en Alimentación y Desarrollo (Center for Food and Development Research), A.C. Unidad Guaymas. 34 p.
[3] Formulario MIR para el anteproyecto: Proyecto de Norma Oficial Mexicana Proy-NOM-029- PESC-2004, Pesca Responsable de Tiburones y Rayas Especificaciones para su aprovechamiento, (Draft project for Official Mexican Norm Proy-NOM-029- PESC-2004, responsible fishing of sharks and rays. Specifications for consideration) available at http://www.cofemermir.gob.mx/

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