Study: Overfishing becoming common on Baja’s Gulf coast

BAJA CALIFORNIA — Anglers and fishers on small boats are overcrowding sections of Baja California’s Sea of Cortez coast, causing overfishing and inefficient catch rates, according to a Scripps Institution of Oceanography study published April 13.

The scientific study suggested an alternative method of fishing to allow for greater catch rates and sustained growth of the industry.

Researchers with University of California, San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography specifically focused on analyzing fishing efforts in data-poor regions.

“[An estimated] 17,839 boats were operating in an area that can only sustain 13,277 boats to maximize the benefits of catching more fish per trip,” the Scripps Institution study found.

An oversaturation of boats in the specific areas of Baja California’s east coast translates into anglers and fishers catching less fish, the study’s lead author stated.

“The current overcapacity of boats means that fishermen are working harder to catch fewer fish,” Andrew F. Johnson, the study’s lead author and postdoctoral scholar Scripps Institution’s Gulf of California Marine Program, stated.

The study found a high concentration of fishing activity in Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, San Felipe and Santa Clara.

Researchers say current fishing activity is putting a heavy strain on a region where sportfishing, diving and other ocean or marine activities are popular.

However overfishing can be reduced, if not reversed, if fisheries combine a review of the number of boats out at sea (and amount of fish they land) with predictive analyses.

“If [predicted] estimates are compared to total commercial fisheries landings, our method can also be used to: 1) predict the present amount of fish biomass extraction from areas of previously unknown activity; 2) evaluate the potential for future growth in a fishery; and 3) provide an estimate of the most cost-effective number of fishing boats per area without diminishing returns,” authors of the Scripps study stated.

“This new method of effort estimation moves us away from data-intensive and laborious methods of investigating this important measure. Our method predicts the ecological impacts of increasingly concentrated fishing efforts, as well as the economic potential for future expansion,” the study’s authors continued.

Regulating the fishing industry, both domestically and internationally, has been in a contentious state in recent years. Fisheries are faced with increased demand for seafood, but the supply of popular (profitable?) catches have been difficult to find or in jeopardy of being placed on an endangered species list. Meanwhile regional, federal and international fishery management agencies or collaborations have been imposing stricter regulations on fishing operations.

Many recreational fishers, in turn, stated they’re unfairly restricted during fishing trips as a result of stricter policy measures.

Meanwhile fisheries began exploring alternative solutions to sustain their stocks, such as building fish pens just off the coast of Ensenada.

“Global marine fisheries are under pressure from increasing demands for protein, driven by rapidly growing human populations. Many commercial stocks remain either fully or over-exploited and show continued declines, whilst rules and regulations governing them continue to tighten, driving new fisheries development,” authors of the Scripps study stated in their report.

Solving overfishing could come down to predictive practices and sustained management, according to the Scripps study.

“Fisheries biomass is often extracted from areas only known by fishers themselves, and is recorded at the point of landing or where the first sale of the catch is made. For this reason, fishing locations often remain elusive, off the radar and difficult to police,” authors of the Scripps study stated. “Understanding where fish are caught has never been more important. The amount of fishing (the effort) and the area over which fishing potentially takes place (the range) are critical measures for successful fisheries management and making realistic predictions about the wider ecological consequences of fishing, although for some specific fishery scenarios this is not always the case.”

Parimal M. Rohit photo

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