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Despite popular myths to the contrary, gillnets are not selective in what they kill.









Drift gillnets can completely devastate an area almost overnight.


Position Paper
 
Gillnets
 

Starting in the mid 1970's monofilament drift gillnets have been used commercially to catch pelagic fish along the west coast of Baja and the Sea of Cortez. These nets, indiscriminate and destructive, kill an enormous amount of bycatch along with the targeted species. So thin they are difficult to see underwater - any animal which swims into a gillnet will fall victim, including whales, dolphins, turtles, birds, sea lions and manta rays. These nets, along with longlines, are culpable for almost all of the killing of 95% of the predatory fish species in the Sea of Cortez.

Now that pelagic fish in the Sea of Cortez are scarce, it is no longer commercially viable to use drift gillnets. Instead, a new young generation of fishermen has discovered an efficient - yet illegal - method to decimate the few remaining fish - the reef fish. The young fishermen and their new fleet of boats are armed with new, 225 meter long inshore monofilament gillnets. They also have new, large Yamaha motors, new dive compressors and the latest diving gear. Examples of these type of boats are the 5 Flor de Maldiva and the 4 Bahia de La Paz boats that have been working the Islands of San Jose, Santa Cruz and San Diego in June and July of 2003. These boats don't even have permits.

Gillnets are finishing off the reef fish at the rate of 1,000 to 1,500 reef fish per boat per day. With a gillnet and this equipment, it takes a boat just over 3 hours to kill over a ½ ton of small reef fish (1000-1500 reef fish). They do this by setting their nets along 200 meters of reef and then two to four divers, breathing out of hookas connected to the compressor, and drive the fish into the nets. Each boat can repeat set nets twice daily, in a process that is being repeated many times daily along the shores of the southern gulf Islands between Loreto and Cabo San Lucas.

According to local fishermen, the commercial fishermen operating from Playa Blanca in the Loreto Marine Reserve are the worst offenders.

ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES

At one time these islands and the nearby seamounts were a major attraction to divers from around the world. Though the major dive community long ago moved on due to depleted fisheries, sportsfishermen, novice divers, snorkelers, and kayakers continue to enjoy the tropical waters around these Islands. These divers and sportsfishermen spend a lot of money. A group of six fisherman on a five day fishing trip from Los Angeles will spend over $5000 in Baja California Sur. However, if there are no fish, these fishermen will not come. Kozy Boren, an American yachter and fisherman, recently told us that after forty years of coming to La Paz he was considering taking his business to Costa Rica because of the lack of fish here. This summer he can't even catch enough fish to feed the people on his boat. In the three months that he is in La Paz each year, he spends over $100,000.

THE ONLY SOLUTION

The short-sighted exploitation of these few remaining fish continues. There will be major economic impact. The local fisherman are not the problem, they are only a symptom. The total lawlessness (anyone can use any method, anytime, anywhere catch anything and in any quantity they want) and indiscriminate use of gear types, including nets are the problem. If there is any chance to save the few remaining fish and to start rebuilding fish stocks in BCS, there must immediately be a total ban on monofilament gill nets and that ban must be strictly enforced. As one fisherman from San Evaristo told SeaWatch, "We don't waste our time anymore reporting illegal fishing because no one does anything." If BCS is not ready to ban all inshore gillnets in their territorial waters, then they shouldn't waste their time trying to stop any of the destruction.

Nothing less than a total ban on gillnets will start to stop the destruction and give impetus to doing things like setting up no take zones and other measures to ensure a rebuilding of fish stocks in Baja California Sur.

Gillnets started the major fisheries declines in the Sea of Cortez in the mid 1970s. Without the political will to remove them from the Sea of Cortez entirely, they will also mark the end of the fisheries and inaugurate the start of more serious social economic problems - problems that will be much more difficult to solve.











 
Monofilament gillnets threaten the entire social and economic future of Baja California Sur.








 
Over 5,000 of the few remaining reef fish are dying in gillnets each day.






 
A group of six fishermen on a five day trip will spend over $5,000.

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