By: Dr. Miguel Ángel Cisneros Mata | Researcher at National Institute of Fishing and Aquaculture

Three important elements converged in 2020: 1) The 25th anniversary of the publication of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO 1995). 2) The mandate to achieve the key targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (UN 2019), with the fisheries sector at the core of SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. And 3) The pandemic generated by the SARS-Cov-2 virus that will make it difficult to counteract hunger and poverty. These three elements represent opportunities for Sonora, a state that holds first place in Mexico in terms of volume of fisheries and aquaculture production. However, to tackle these opportunities we require structural changes and a sum of wills.

In 2018, the world’s production of seafood products reached 179 million tons (t) with a value of $401,000 million of which $250,000 million corresponds to aquaculture. In a recent study, it was estimated that in 2050 sustainable aquaculture production may increase by 44% and fisheries by 16% (Costello et al. 2020). To achieve this, supply-demand must be modified, the proportion of fishmeal destined for fish farming must be reduced, and reforms to recover overfished fisheries and technological changes to reduce costs and environmental externalities must be put in place. Sonora can become a leader in this and other aspects detailed below.

Mexico ranks 15th globally in aquaculture production and fishery resources (SOFIA 2020). In 2018, 1.47 million tons in live weight were produced. FAO estimates that to meet its demand, in 2030 Mexico needs to increase aquatic products imports by 22.4% and reduce exports by 15.2% (SOFIA 2020).

Thanks to its human and natural resources, Sonora has enormous fishing and aquaculture potential more than 1,200 km of coastline and tens of thousands of hectares of coastal lagoons and freshwater reservoirs. Sonora also has 20,544 registered coastal fishermen and 2,760 deep-sea fishing fishers. But the Sonoran coast is heterogeneous in terms of the conditions of its artisanal fishing communities which become more precarious as you go from north to south. This represents a challenge for fisheries and aquaculture management under conditions of equity.

Aquaculture activity has been very relevant in recent years. After the collapse of shrimp farming, production recovered and has been increasing since 2014. Sonoran aquaculture is made up of three large groups: shrimp, mollusks, and fish. It contributes 35.15% of the national production, including shrimp, oysters, mojarra, clam, bass, carp, and catfish with almost 200 aquaculture production units in the central and southern coastal areas of the state. The largest number of production units is dedicated to shrimp farming (157), followed by mollusks (27) and fish (12).

Most of the Mexican fisheries are in disarray and two main causes can be attributed to 1) the lack of regulations in the LGPAS (General Law for Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture), and 2) the fact that the legislative and executive powers have yet to grant fishing and aquaculture the recognition they deserve and don’t provide sufficient support. Sonora is responsible for managing sport-recreational fishing, as well as sessile species, and inspection and surveillance tasks in inland waters bordering between States. Mandated by the LGPAS, Sonora is also in charge of territorial planning and aquaculture health, but not fisheries. The true federalization of fisheries and aquaculture management must be promoted by Sonora and the federation should provide the economic resources.

In 2008, the State of Sonora enacted its Fisheries and Aquaculture Law, a requirement for management cohesiveness. In 2019, the Sonora State Council for Fisheries and Aquaculture was formally constituted. However, its Law on Land Management and Urban Development does not mention fishing and aquaculture, which represents a structural challenge.

All aspects of fish supply chains are heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with jobs, income, and food security at risk. Governments and industry must jointly face the economic and social difficulties that the crisis is causing. Governments must maintain their long-term visions to protect natural resources, ecosystems, and the viability of fisheries. In particular, efforts should be made to support those most in need and stop subsidizing the operating costs of the fishing efforts. Transparency will help build trust in the value chains of fisheries markets, and will allow learning from the crisis to improve the sustainability and resilience of fisheries and aquaculture (OECD 2020). In June 2020, fishermen and women in Mexico began to receive support from the federal government (BIENPESCA): 7,200 pesos to each of 193,200 people. This is clearly insufficient to withstand the long reactivation period for the sector (COBI 2020). Fishing, like all economic activities, is severely affected by the market contraction and will require special support in the short, medium, and long term.

The current federal administration has reduced the budget for inspection and surveillance to zero. The artisanal industry is disintegrating and overwhelmed by “irregular” fishermen, family cooperatives, and/or “factureras” (billing companies that issue invoices for simulated, non-existent or fictitious operations). Artisanal fishermen are prey to individuals or legal entities including permit holders and buyers of illegal catch. In a text from 04/17/2020[1]: “Shrimp are looted in the middle of the closed season in Sonora. … Illegal fishing in Mexico continues to flourish while coastal fishing communities face a severe crisis due to the drop in the sale of their products as a result of the Covid-19 health crisis. The authority vacuum allows poachers to work freely…”.

The Sustainable Development Goals state that by 2020 fuel subsidies for fishing should be eliminated. In the short term, this represents a challenge for fishermen and some fish farmers, especially in times of COVID. In the medium and long term, this could become an opportunity to reform fishing management and operations. Sonora has the opportunity to lead this reform process.

Illegal fishing has exacerbated critical issues. Ten years ago, the demand caused an exponential growth in the illegal capture of totoaba which, together with the situation in which the vaquita is found, brought restrictions on fishing in the Upper Gulf of California (Cisneros-Mata 2020). “The current embargo on shrimp, Gulf croaker, mackerel, Gulf curvina and other finfish of the Upper Gulf of California remains in effect … until Mexico receives comparability of the affected fisheries.”[2] This is one of the most complicated challenges facing not only Sonora and its fishermen but also Mexico.

We must also add the effects of climate change to the pandemic and illegal fishing. Global warming is causing sea levels to rise due to polar ice melting and the large amounts of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels that are being absorbed by the oceans. In countries of tropical and subtropical latitudes such as Mexico, a double impact is being generated: 1) species displacement towards less warm areas and 2) ocean acidification that negatively affects shell species (mollusks), exoskeleton species (crustaceans), and some fish species. For the fishing resources of the Sonoran coast, negative effects are expected for some species such as snapper, coastal sharks, sierra, sardines, tripa, clam, and giant squid. Other species will not suffer impacts: brown crab, black Chinese snail, mahi mahi, and lobster (Cisneros-Mata et al. 2019). In aquaculture, short-term impacts are expected to include production and infrastructure losses from flooding, as well as increased risk of disease, parasites, and harmful algal blooms. In the long term, the expectation is that availability of wild “seeds” will decrease and that the reduction in rainfall will generate more competition for fresh water (FAO 2018).

To successfully face these challenges, Sonora has pending issues with adapting structural instruments that give viability to the State Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture beyond its formal conformation. The COVID-19 pandemic has strongly impacted fisheries, especially artisanal fisheries and is probably the case in aquaculture too. An emerging program is required to reactivate and sustain markets in the face of the new normal. The families of artisanal fishermen are suffering from the lack of medical care services to treat infections. It’s necessary to pay attention to them and get them immediate help. An organization and training program is required to empower the communities themselves and improve their living conditions. Climate change is present and is affecting artisanal fisheries. A training program about mitigation, but above all about adaptation, is imperative.

The fishing cooperatives’ competitiveness is directly related to their empowerment (Cassio-Madrazo 2016). It’s necessary to end the fishermen’s atomization and seek to organize and perhaps consolidate efforts that will provide better governance and empowerment. It’s also necessary to curb the control that illegal fishing societies have over true fishermen, permit holders without pangas but with permits, and buyers outside the Law. The first step in the case of artisanal fishing is to generate an honest database validated by people who actually fish as their main source of income.

As an integral part of the ordinance, it’s necessary to develop strategies to reactivate seafood markets, starting with the local ones, with the vision of integrating them and reactivating the regional, national and international markets. The strategy should include training fishermen to establish local collection centers, establishing a cold network to transport and market their products, and shortening intermediaries’ chains when possible. The order assumed by the producers, together with strategies to recover markets, will empower these actors and will place them in a position to defend prices by unifying the offer.

Support must be transformed into incentives that function as levers to promote good fishing and aquaculture practices. An example of this is redirecting programs such as “Sembrando Vida” to adapt to promoting aquaculture and fishing with a vision to generate quality food and decent conditions for family life in the communities for the future. Education, empowering women, and support for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture are indispensable conditions. Support should be aimed at improving fishing selectivity, on-board handling, distributing cold nets, and training to integrate fishing communities into the trade network (WWF 2020).

To face the effects of climate change on fishing, adaptation is strongly recommended to reduce poverty and marginalization. Adaptation means modifying fishing and cultivation practices for aquatic species and advancing management. It’s necessary to improve the living conditions in the coastal communities where artisanal fishing is the only alternative for subsistence. This can be achieved by introducing comprehensive and inclusive mechanisms to maximize not the catches but their value with more efficient processes and with minimizing the chains of intermediaries between fishermen and consumers.

If regulations are ignored in fishing and aquaculture and citizen participation, production is doomed to fail. In fishing, it’s necessary to reach agreements with the communities to establish co-management mechanisms, in addition to restricting permits, promoting agreed seasonal closures, catch quotas, and shelters and protected areas. The control and surveillance bodies must be reinforced with trained, committed, and supervised inspectors equipped with the necessary technological and administrative tools. But if producers are not part of this process, failure is almost guaranteed. Fishermen and aquaculturists must not only understand but share their knowledge to comply with the provisions (WWF 2020).

[1] Consultado el 4 de septiembre de 2020.

[2] Consultado el 3 de septiembre de 2020.