October 3, 2010

An Octopus's Garden

"I can see the bottom," Evan told us as we pulled into Los Rocas and anchored in 30 feet. The clear water, and the fact the air temperature was already 33 C, was enough to make us jump in and snorkel over to the nearby reef. But as we neared the rocky outcropping a Mexican panga arrived. A diver with a Hookah rig went over the side. We swam closer to the reef and ran into another snorkelling cruiser, she'd learned from the diver they were after octopus.
Los Rocas is in a park. And as far as we understand fishing here, and for that matter anywhere with a Hookah rig, is not legal. The octopus, which the other cruiser told us were present, but not abundant, didn't have a chance.
We were suddenly confronted by the quandary that all cruisers in the Sea are being faced with. There are some cruisers and a few organizations that see us as the potential police of the Sea. Mexico has decent conservation laws, but there is no funding to enforce them. The argument is that because cruisers are in the region in high numbers, we can confront and educate fishermen about their own laws. Or we can call authorities on the radio (if there are any in the area, which is rare) and turn in the offenders.

In theory this makes sense. But in practice there are problems. Sailors and fishermen in the Sea used to have a pretty good relationship. Even the cruisers who were here last year talked about how easy it was to trade with fishermen and how the fishermen never hesitated to come to cruisers if they needed help. This year the trades aren't happening and a slight wariness is replacing friendliness.
The reality is we need to learn to conserve. Simply sailing through this Sea-which is one of the most abundant nursery waters in the world--is ample proof we are in real trouble. The analogy is we are clear-cutting the ocean and not replanting more than a few token trees. But conservation is proving to be almost impossible to enforce: As evironmental edicts imposed on poor, or hungry people fail again, and again. And if cruisers start turning in all the fishermen we see breaking laws (which frankly, includes ourselves) we'll not only fail to make progress, we'll stop being welcomed.
Conservation is always most effective when it's a grassroots effort. When local fishermen and tourism providers understand that the only way their livelihood is going to survive is by protecting the stocks, they tend to make strides. Government can help, but not simply with laws, we need to demand funding for education and alternatives. People need to be paid not to over fish. And consumers need to demand fish that has been carefully caught. Or, to put it another way, we have to learn to pay for the real cost of fish, which includes the cost of replacement and protection.
That clam, oyster, or lovely Mahi-Mahi steak needs to be valuable enough (and expensive enough) that the fishermen who caught it can earn a living, while taking the time needed to avoid by-catch and actively protect the place it came from.

"They are getting closer to the octopus's lair," the other cruiser told us as we swam. "Maybe if we swim over there and stay right in front of it, the diver will go away."
We swam toward it. But the diver didn't slow his methodical hunt. So many things went through my mind as we hovered over that octopus's barely hidden lair: My long ago memory of linking arms in front of big old growth trees, trying to stop loggers; Late night discussions about how finding a way to get people to care about their environment; The more recent memory of walking down Dead Beach with Maia.
I looked at my daughter. Busy somersaulting underwater; she was oblivious to the octopus's plight. Glancing back at the approaching diver, who was likely earning a wage that I couldn't fathom living on, we slowly swam her away from that beautiful little lair.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Difficult choice!

At least by posting you bring up this problem for others to consider.

David (Vancouver BC)