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SeaWatch worked to defeat the original Shark NORMA

Socorro Island

One of the ships that SeaWatch helped sink.

Televisa Reporter Armando Figaredo

A Giant Pacific Manta killed for it's nearly-worthless flesh.

Nets on world-famous dive site El Bajo

Illegal shark-fining boats in the Revillagigedo Islands.

Fishing is now prohibited within 12 miles of the islands

What We Have Done
SeaWatch Accomplishments

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 officials.

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. and CONAPESCA.

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 Island overview

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 mantas

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 southern Baja
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 southern Baja.

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.


Selected By The Rolex Awards For Enterprise as One of the Top 100 ecological projects worldwide.

As always, each dime donated to SeaWatch goes only to projects we are involved in directly.
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