New marine reserve not off limits to fishing

Biosphere off Baja California coast aims to sustain long-term angling opportunities.

SAN DIEGO — A stretch of Mexican waters frequented by Southern California anglers will be included as part of a new marine reserve created by presidential decree in early December. The marine reserve, or biosphere, would still allow for human activities, such as fishing, to occur.

Mexico Pres. Enrique Peña Nieto included an announcement of the biosphere expansion on his blog and stated his country has a “great responsibility of caring for the environment.”

Nieto established four biological marine reserves and five other protected areas, according to news reports.

The new marine reserves, according to Nieto, honor the environmental commitments Mexico made to the United Nations and is the country’s largest amount of territory set aside for conservation efforts.

H&M Landing General Manager Frank Ursitti said the establishment of a biosphere off the Baja California coast would help develop a sustainable fishery at Los Coronados Islands, which is frequented by San Diego and Southern California anglers.

Los Coronados Islands is located about 14 miles south of San Diego.

“With the inclusion of the Coronados, we must remember these islands play a vital role for marine birds, as well as species of fish that are sought after both recreationally as well as commercially,” Ursitti said. “Including the islands in the biosphere is an important step towards conservation and sends a very clear message to the global community that Mexico is a leader in sustainable fisheries and has earned a seat at the table with regards to their marine resources.”

Ursitti added anglers should not be scared away by the biosphere designation.

“The sportfishing community suffered for a period of 5 to 7 years as a result of poor communication as much of our clientele was of the impression the [Channel] Islands were closed to fishing,” Ursitti said, referring to the establishment of MPAs off California’s south central coast. “Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, there were growing pains as we adjusted to tighter areas, but the northern fleet has survived.

“Through management, we look forward to the day where the sacrifice of traditional territory (used as a management measure) will yield the anticipated results of rebuilt stocks and allow future generations to reap the benefits of this management style,” Ursitti continued.

Baja California’s Pacific coast is one of three marine reserves in Mexican waters dedicated as a biosphere. The other two areas are the Mexican Caribbean and a coastal strip between Chiapas and Nayarit.

Nieto described the biospheres as a tool to protect and enhance the maritime heritage of Mexico. The biospheres allow for human activities – such as fishing – without affecting marine ecosystems.

Mexico’s president added about 17 percent of the country’s territory would be designated as a protected national area by 2020. About 13.76 percent of Mexico is currently designated as a “protected natural area.”

In all about 160 million acres were set aside for conservation efforts.

The new biosphere includes all yet-to-be-protected Pacific islands off the Baja coast. The protected areas are not temporary. Biosphere offices will be located in Ensenada, Guerrero Negro and La Paz.

Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Natural Areas is still working out details of how Nieto’s decree would be enforced.

Ursitti said the San Diego fleet would keep its customer base educated and informed while also promoting conservation efforts.

“I believe we all learned our lesson with the creation of the northern reserves, and will work diligently to keep our customers/users informed should this measure impact our access.” Ursitti told FishRap. “We all walk the same line, whether we realize it or not. No one is more interested in sustainable fisheries than we are as vessel owners, landing owners, vessel operators, crewmembers and anglers.

“Without healthy stocks, we have nothing,” he added.

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