They‘re Harpooning Marlin!

Slaughtering Up To 200 A Day
BY: CARRIE DUNCAN

People! Precious readers! You must do your part in saving these forlorn fish by refusing to eat at or even to patronize restaurants that serve marlin. Those scofflaw restaurants are all over town, look on the menu.

There is a federal law that certain fish are not to be taken by anyone but sport fishermen. This law is on the books to protect the tourist industry, and the no-take law extends 50 miles out from all Mexican shores.

Right now the marlin are running, churning the waters with their numbers, from Magdalena Bay south to Los Cabos. This creates a huge opportunity for our local panga fishermen to harpoon as many of the big guys as they want, and right now the fishermen off of Punto Lobos want. Punto Lobos is about 40 minutes north of us, and 10 minutes south of Todos Santos. There are two fishing co-ops that work from pangas, which they pull up on the beach over night. Pangas are big fiberglass row boats with the 115 hp outboards hanging off the back. These fishermen sell their daily catch to local restaurants and markets, and they do very well season in and season out.

But this time of the year some of them take the lazy way out and make a killing, so to speak, by harpooning the marlin as they chase food very near the surface. Yes, they actually use harpoons, like the old timey whalers who harpooned those big guys almost to extinction in the last century. Maybe that was two centuries ago. This current harpooning habit is even worse, because the marlin are so small they can’t even fight back to take out the occasionally careless fisherman. 

The harpooners immediately cut off the tail and head, tossing this overboard, so it’s hard to tell what kind of fish it is. Then they put the body in a wooden box so the marlin is even harder to detect.

This entire state, which won’t disclose how many fishing licenses they sell each year at an average cost of $17 a day, will not disclose how much they took in, they will only disclose their expenses in very broad terms. We asked the commission of transparency (instituto estatal de acceso a la informacion), for a better explanation but this is all they came up with:

 They say they spent 15,800,000 US dollars in 2017. Of that $373,000 was spent on administration, $612,000 on promotion of fishing, and $640,000 on inspection and vigilance. That is, the enforcement of the rules.

Despite admitting they spend $640,000 in 2017, they cannot seem to field more than three inspectors total, for the entire state. Of those three public servants, only one of them is interested in doing his job, and he’s simply overwhelmed. And, further hampering his efforts, he can’t work alone because he needs protection from the Navy guys with guns.

The Navy can’t effectively patrol because their distinctive boats can be seen 15 miles away, so the fishermen toss their illegal catch overboard and pretend they’re seeking legitimate fish. The good guys’ only success this year has been when the inspector went out on a fishing boat, located a harpoon boat, and then blocked that boat until the Navy boat could rush in. The sailors boarded the panga and found horrendous slaughter of marlin. Much of the marlin was tossed overboard in the chase but the Navy was able to pull some of the carcasses out of the water before they sank.

Most of our sport fishermen now catch and release, so they don’t put pressure on the species. Mortality is almost entirely due to this illegal harpooning, and those killers are not doing this in any desperate attempt to feed their families, because they can make a good living legitimately. And not all the fishermen at Punto Lobos even do this, but enough to create serious pressure on the species.

So, what happened to the one and only boat to be caught? The boat was impounded and is sitting in the marina waiting for the case to make its way through the courts. Did the harpooners go to jail? Of course not, this is Mexico, the land of impunity.

You can help. You can refuse to patronize a restaurant that has marlin on the menu. The law can’t do much against restaurants because even though the fish are bought at the back door, at a bargain price, the restaurants are crafty enough to have a receipt on hand that says they bought it from an import company and it was brought in from a country that allows marlin to be commercially traded. Or they claim it’s tuna. Some of them even sell tuna they claim is marlin, like the new LA Centro on the marina front in front of the mall. They actually flaunt it as marlin, which shows just how trendy marlin is.

This is an area, maybe the only one, where you the foreigners can exert some influence. You can’t vote, you dare not join any kind of protest, but you can refuse to eat at one of these restaurants, and most importantly, you can tell the restaurant why. As you walk past a restaurant, look at their menu they usually have posted outside, and speak up. Tell them you won’t eat there because they serve marlin. Or if you’re already in a restaurant, at least speak up. Better you should walk out, but at least speak to the management. No point in telling your waiter, as he will never care enough to pass on your opinion, but you can have a tremendous impact on this tragic problem if you only speak up.