By Erica Ferrer
As many readers already know, small-scale fisheries (SSFs) are simply Too Big to Ignore, greatly contributing to seafood security around the world. In Mexico, for example, we know that SSFs comprise an industry valued at ~4.25-million dollars a year, producing 420,000 tons of fish annually, nearly 35% of all of Mexico’s fishery output by mass. In other words, a lot of fish!
Under the collaborative umbrella of the Gulf of California Marine Program (GCMP), the Aburto Lab has worked with el Centro para la Biodiversidad Marina y Conservación, A.C. (CBMC), and Baja fishermen to collect GPS records and fishery-landings data throughout the Peninsula for nearly 10 years as part of our SSF monitoring program. To date, this project, which we have affectionally dubbed “The Tracker Project” has logged over 25,000 GPS records from individual fishing trips across eight different communities in Baja California, comprising one of the longest and most robust SSFs time series in the entire world. These data have been collected from across the Peninsula, including the fishing communities of Puerto San Carlos in Bahía Magdalena (Fig. 1), and Isla la Ventana near La Paz (Fig. 2), where I traveled during my first field trip to Baja this September! I made this fun and informative trip along with two amazing and indispensable teammates: Aburto Lab Manager, Nina Rosen, and CBMC researcher Jose Cota-Nieto (Fig. 3).
The data generated by this project allow us to answer questions related to fishermen’s appropriation of time and space. Simultaneously, this project and the trackers themselves help us to forge trust with small-scale fishers like Miguel, who you see showing off his new solar tracker (Figure 4). Currently, we are in the process of transitioning to solar-powered GPS trackers (Fig. 5), which log data for longer periods of time and produce more consistent time series. A day after setting foot in La Paz, I and the CBMC team built 30 of these solar-powered trackers. Ready for action!
From La Paz, Nina, Jose, and I traveled to the Pacific side of Baja to work in the maritime town of Puerto San Carlos. While there we worked with local fishermen to learn more about the community itself, while also deploying our new-and-improved trackers on pangas across town. In general, the fishers were more than happy to help with our efforts, expressing their keen knowledge and enthusiasm for science whenever we got to chatting. Often times, our short chats would turn into grand conversations or even invitations to dinner. (I will not soon forget the delicious ceviche Miguel and his wife served us; Fig. 6)
About a week into the trip, while sitting beside a pile sustainable crab traps, I had a fascinating conversation with a fisher named Carlos* about environmentally-responsible fisheries, policy, and where SSFs fit into this mix. He explained his zeal for ecology, noting that many small-scale fishers (like him) consider themselves true conservations – “stewards of the sea”. However, he also noted that all too often the policy designed to protect SSF resources misses the nuance of how they operate and are not particularly successful.
I carry this conversation with me, pondering all the ways in which GCMP science helps inform more effective policy. I deeply appreciate the pieces of knowledge dispensed to me by the fishers I met on this trip, delivered with certainty and sincerity that only a steward of the sea could.