Since its founding in 1993 by a small group of Americans and Mexicans disgusted with the destruction of fisheries in the Sea of Cortes, Sea Watch was able to initially help accomplish major advances in ocean fisheries conservation. All on an annual budget of under $50,000 a year - as always each dime donated to Sea Watch will go only to the projects we are involved in directly.
Initially Sea Watch was the first to draw attention to the destruction of Giant Pacific Manta rays at the Revillagigedo Islands of Mexico. It lobbied hard to get the islands protected which happened in 1994. Sea Watch members again took the lead in 2002 to expose destructive longliners and gillnetters still illegally fishing at the Islands.
Recently, Sea Watch as been working in the Sea of Cortes to try to stop the very destructive hookah divers, who working with nets during the day and Hawaiianas (harpoons) at night, have decimated the reef fish in the Sea of Cortes over the last 10 years. It was the Sea Watch video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-eWlzy5Pko that brought this destructive fishery to the attention of Mexico and the world. Sea Watch working with Conapesca and the civil society, over the last year, has proposed modifications to regulations in Norma 064 which would ban using hookah to kill any fish. Conapesca has adopted and expanded these proposed modifications to include all continental waters of Mexico as well as the ocean. This ban will become law in early 2008. Sea Watch is now working with the program in charge of the vigilance and enforcement program that will enforce these new bans.
The following are our major accomplishments to date (click
on each item for further description):
1.) Helped defeat the flawed
Shark NORMA-029 in October of 2002
Under Mexican law, it is illegal for longliners or gill-netters
to fish commercially within 50 miles of the coast of the Sea
of Cortes. These rich striped marlin waters are reserved for
sportsfishing. Shark NORMA-029 was created as a mechanism
by CONAPESCA to allow longliners to come within the 50 mile
no fishing zone by getting "shark permits" under
new regulations for shark fishing. This permit would allow
these longliners to keep all bycatch, including sportsfish,
such as marlin, dorado, sailfish, wahoo etc. The "Regulations
for sustainable shark fisheries" were in essence a license
to break the law, and would have further depleted the already
devastated fisheries. SeaWatch helped award-winning videographer
and producer Armando Figeredo do 24 special TV reports for
Televisa (one of the world's largest television stations).
Televisa brought their morning news team to Baja for one week,
and every morning the news was dedicated to stories condemning
the Shark NORMA regulations.
SeaWatch, along with other conservation groups, spent $60,000
U.S. publishing an open letter to President Fox in newspapers
explaining the problem with Shark NORMA and how he could intervene.
As a result, President Fox told Secretary Usiabaga, the Minister
of SAGARPA, to urge the Senate to cancel the NORMA. In October
2002, the senate cancelled the NORMA.
2.) Made major progress
towards implementation of Vessel Monitoring Systems
Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) are the only way Mexico will
be able to adequately enforce its 50-mile no fishing zones
and other closed areas. VMS allows one employee to monitor
up to 300 boats for about $1.00/day per boat and the entire
land station can be set up for a maximum of $50,000.
For the last four years SeaWatch, along with the Billfish
Fund, have spearheaded a drive to put vessel monitoring systems
on the Mexican longline and drift gillnet fleet. SeaWatch
advisor Barbara Morin Gomez and Guillermo Alverez have been
actively lobbying and working with all levels of government
including Congress, SAGARPA, and Baja California Sur state
At a public meeting in Cabo San Lucas Secretary Usabiaga
of SAGARPA embraced VMS and agreed to provide all of the financing.
VMS is also backed by SEMARNAT, the Navy, Gobernacion, PROFEPA.
In March 2003, SeaWatch visited Bob Harman, the head of VMS
systems installation and enforcement in the Pacific, and received
an in-depth presentation about how the VMS system works. In
May, 2003, the B.C.S. SAGARPA paid for Navy Captain Rogelio
and Mr. Soto to visit Hawaii and meet with Bob Harman and
other NOAA officials where they also came to understand the
benefits and efficiency of VMS during this trip partially
organized by SeaWatch. Shortly after their return, CONAPESCA
Commissioner Ramos asked the U.S. government to provide training
and support for a Mexican version of VMS.
But even with federal support for VMS, SeaWatch will continue
to take a leadership role in urging government to implement
this important system. (link to VMS Position paper)
3.) Secured the declaration
of the Eastern Pacific Islands as a biosphere in 1994
In 1994 Seawatch exposed the brutal killing of Giant Pacific
Mantas in the Revillagigedo Islands. The news was run three
times on Guillermo Ortega's influential Mexican TV news-magazine,
Al Despartar, seen by 58 million Latinos. With the help of
free-lance reporter, Armando Figeredo, SeaWatch made nine
more Sea of Cortes specials for Al Despartar. The slaughter
of the mantas was also shown on international news stations.
Along with Pronatura, Mexico's most influential and politically
connected environmental group, SeaWatch brought political
and media attention to the amazing beauty of the islands and
the Mantas. Shortly thereafter the Eastern Pacific archipelago
(Revillagigedos Islands) were declared a biosphere, in which
no commercial fishing was allowed within 12 miles of the islands.
Also, a law was introduced that enacted a $10,000 fine for
killing a Manta in the Revillagigedo Islands. See Biosphere
Management plan & Revillagigedo
4.) Closed the Revillagigedo
Islands to all Fishing in March 2002.
In March of 2002, SeaWatch and Miguel Sanchez Navarro invited
Secretary Santiago Creel to the Revillagigedo biosphere to
see the Giant Pacific Mantas and witness first hand the damage
being done to the fishery by illegal longliners, drift gill-netters,
and over-fishing by yachts and long range boats from California.
While out to sea, SeaWatch, Santiago Creel and a Navy Escort
saw a longliner fishing 1.9 miles north of the Island of Benedicto.
As a result of the trip and a lawsuit filed by the Hotel and
Sportsfishing Association of Cabo San Lucas, Santiago Creel
closed the entire biosphere to all fishing as of March 2002.
However, this was only a partial victory. Eliminating the
watchful concern of conservation-minded sportsfishermen meant
that illegal commercial fishing are now unmonitored in the
islands. Sportsfishermen's presence is a significant deterrent
to commercial poachers. SeaWatch supports reopening the islands
to sportsfishermen as well as requiring all boats in the area
to have VMS.
5.) Started the first artificial reef program
in the Sea of Cortes
SeaWatch found two neglected 150-foot boats and developed
a plan for the first artificial reef program in the Sea of
Cortes. SeaWatch and Pronatura (Mexico's leading environmental
group) paid for the environmental impact and feasibility studies
and contributed the initial money towards sinking the two
boats outside of La Paz. On November 18, 1999, these two large
fishing boats were sunk in the Sea of the Cortes. Julia Carabas,
the Mexican Secretary of the Environment, Ecology, and Fisheries
was master of ceremonies at the dedication celebration. These
first two boats are the start of a major effort to sink old
and dilapidated fishing and naval boats, in an effort to create
more habitat for sea life and boost the local diving business
and local economy.
6.) Produced over 120 special
reports on the destruction of the Sea of Cortes
SeaWatch has produced over 120 special reports that have
been aired on Mexico's most watch evening news. Following
each of the three to five minute reports, senators and congressman
have been flooded with calls from constituents angry about
the destructive practices taking place in the Sea of Cortes
and its surrounding waters.
7.) Spearheaded a
petition to stop the killing of whale sharks and giant pacific
A year and a half of work between Pronatura, SeaWatch, Pesca,
and SEMERNAP culminated in a program of protection for the
giant pacific manta and the whale shark in the Sea of Cortes.
In 1998, SeaWatch photographed the brutal killing of whale
sharks in the Loreto area and spearheaded a worldwide petition,
along with Pronatura, to stop the killing of whale sharks
and giant mantas in the Sea of Cortes, where neither were
protected. SeaWatch posted pictures of the killing of these
graceful giants on its website and as a result received over
1300 petitions from people all over the world. This was followed
up by distributing full color petitions at an international
dive show held in New Orleans in January of 1999. Over 2,200
were signed and also sent to Mexico. On April 1, 2000, federal
legislation was created to protect the whale shark and giant
Pacific Manta in Mexican waters.
8.) Brought international
press to the destruction of the Sea of Cortes
SeaWatch's work has created interest from worldwide press
and brought in writers and film crews from around the world
to chronicle the destruction of the Sea of Cortes. For example,
SeaWatch invited a reporter from the Sacramento Bee to Mexico.
Tom Knudson spent six months chronicling the destruction in
the sea and published his results in a four part series for
which he ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize.
9.) Worked to stop
tuna seiners from setting in the inshore sea mounts in the
In May 2001 Seawatch posted on its website, video and pictures
taken of a tuna seiner dropping its nets around the seamount
at Gordo Banks. Commercial fishing is not only illegal within
50 miles of shore, but when large tuna seiners wrap inshore
seamounts, they catch all the other local residents, including
sharks, pelagics, reef fish, and mantas. There were over 800
tons of tuna taken from the Jamie Bank in the spring of 2002.
SeaWatch armed the Billfish Fund of Mexico with the evidence
posted on the website, which has allowed them to negotiate
with the tuna industry and SAGARPA, for regulations to keep
tuna seiners away from all inshore seamounts and islands in
10.) Discovered and
filmed massive, clandestine buildup of longliners
In 1999, SeaWatch discovered and filmed the first clandestine
longliners, of what became a fleet of 50-75 boats, being outfitted
in Mexico. CONAPESCA & Jim Cook (one of the biggest longline
distributors in the USA) were involved in the outfitting.
These organizations denied the building of these boats, but
the pictures taken by SeaWatch were undeniable.
Shortly thereafter Jim Cook's Hawaiian longline fleet applied
for 138 longline permits to work in the waters inside the
EEZ off California. The Billfish Foundation in the USA brought
in fisheries scientist Dr. Russ Nelson to help fight the issuing
of those permits. SeaWatch helped bring together the Billfish
Foundation and the people in Mexico, in order to fight the
buildup of Mexican Longliners. The Billfish Foundation agreed
to pay Dr. Nelson to split his time between Mexico and the
USA to fight the proliferation of longliners in both countries.
SeaWatch worked closely with those objecting to the permits
and presented a paper against issuing the permits: A
Case Against Longlining in California.
After a two year struggle led by the Billfish Foundation,
Dr. Russ Nelson, the United Anglers, and others, the Pacific
Fisheries Management Council in October 2002 voted against
allowing any permits for longliners inside the 200 mile Exclusive
Economic Zone along the Pacific Coast of the USA.
11.) Filmed over
22 boats illegally fishing in the Revillagigedo reserve
SeaWatch has filmed an over 25 boats illegally fishing in
the Revillagigedo Island reserve since 1994. Many of those
reports have since been turned into television specials. The
special reports led to 12 of these boats to be arrested. The
Navy now has a frigate on patrol within the Biosphere to further
reduce illegal fishing.