December 2003


1. Landing sites



Due to the concentration of industrial fisheries, landings in the Pacific ports are higher and more unevenly distributed than in the Gulf of Mexico. The numbers in the graphs axis correspond to those on the map above. Notice that the first six landing sites in the Pacific, all of them with landings above 20,000 mt per year are in the states surrounding the Gulf of California and 255, out of 282 processing plants are also located in those states that possess 83 percent of the 13,530 meters mooring length available for industrial fishing vessels in the Pacific.

In the Gulf of Mexico (of the 125 plants) 27 processing plants are found in Tamaulipas, 18 in Campeche and 54 in Yucatán (CONAPESCA, 2001). These states possess 73 percent of the 19,900 meters mooring length available on this coast.

2. Fishery sector strategies

Mexico’s fisheries management system is undergoing a process of evolution. As is the case with most sectors in the Mexican economy, planning is made under the guidelines of Sectoral Plans. These are prepared and set up every six years, as new administrations take office at the federal government level. The general objectives and emphasis usually change as new plans are put forward. For example, before the mid-nineties emphasis was put on increasing catches, the National Fisheries Development Plan 1988-1994 set as an objective to reach the “Maximum Sustainable Yield”. In the early nineties, a change of emphasis began to take shape in part as a result of the international forums held at that time (Mexico was an active promoter of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries) and Fisheries management was incorporated in 1994 in the newly formed Secretariat of Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries which gave due consideration to the importance of marine resources as part of natural resources. The new Fisheries Plan stated sustainability as a goal and the Precautionary Principle as a guideline. Since the end of the year 2000, at the beginning of the present administration, fisheries institutions were transferred to the (present) Secretariat of Agriculture Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación, SAGARPA) with emphasis seemingly shifting again to “promotion” (“fomento”) of the fisheries sector, although sustainability remains an objective but without the inclusion of the Precautionary Principle. The four objectives found in the present sectoral plan are to:

a) Exploit fisheries resources in a sustainable way.
b) Increase economic and social profitability of fisheries and aquaculture.
c) Increase legal certainty in fishing and aquaculture activities.
d) Promote support programs for fishing and aquaculture activities.

However, management objectives remain vague in the national legislation. The Federal Fisheries Law (decreed in June of 1992, amended in January 2001) states that its objective is “to warrant the conservation, preservation and rational use of fisheries resources and establish the basis for their adequate development and management”.

3. Fishery sector methods

Although we cannot say that regulations or management schemes in Mexican fisheries are only recent ones, we can safely say that only until recent years, as a result of changes in general laws that provide for public participation (like the Federal Metrology and Normalization Law, discussed below) and the new global initiatives (like the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, among others), a coherent body of instruments and guideless is taking shape. The evolving strategy is embodied in traditional regulatory instruments, like general principles in laws and particular ones in NOMs, and innovative ones (like the National Fisheries Chart). However much has to be done at present to see this scheme completed.

4. Fishery sector institutions

At present, the agency responsible for fisheries management, monitoring and enforcement is the National Commission of Aquaculture and Fisheries (Comisión Nacional de Acuacultura y Pesca, CONAPESCA), a “descendant” of the Secretariat (1982-1994) and Undersecretariat (1994-2000) of Fisheries. Before 1982 Fisheries used to be a department in the secretariats of commerce and navy.

As a result of its transfer, the Undersecretariat was downsized, and its state delegations (formerly one in every one of the 32 states) were reduced in number and incorporated into SAGARPA delegations, losing their hierarchical link to the present CONAPESCA.

National Commission of Aquaculture and Fisheries

National Fisheries Institute

The National Fisheries Institute (INP) bears responsibility for, among others, assessment of the status of national fisheries as well as the evaluation of fishing gear. The organization is entitled by law to give the scientific and technical basis for decision making and gathering the required data. It has a decentralized network of 13 Regional Centers of Fisheries Research (Centros Regionales de Investigación Pesquera, CRIPs). It has no direct vertical hierarchical link to the present CONAPESCA, both are subordinated to SAGARPA. This institution has also been downsized in the present administration, with 250 researchers and technicians remaining out of the former 400. (Institution Organization Chart is shown below).

With the transfer of fisheries management to the Secretariat of Agriculture, the now Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, SEMARNAT) retained the functions of sanctioning the National Fisheries Chart 2000 (CNP) to ensure compatibility with resource conservation and sustainability strategies and determine such measures like closed seasons. SEMARNAT also is in charge of managing Protected Natural Areas (Áreas Naturales Protegidas, ANPs). Fishing takes place in some marine ANP’s, like the upper Gulf of California and in those areas SEMARNAT and SAGARPA have had to share responsibilities.

Major stakeholders include the industrial fishermen, most of them grouped under the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Industry Chamber (Cámara Nacional de la Industria Pesquera y Acuícola, CANAINPESCA). Artisanal fishermen are usually organized in fishing cooperatives, grouped under the National Confederation of Fishing Cooperatives. (Confederación Nacional de Cooperativas Pesqueras, CNCP) However, there are many cooperatives not affiliated to that organization. Many fishermen belong to “Social Solidarity Societies” (SSS) and many “free fishermen” do not belong to any group so the representativeness of the CNCP is not as complete as that of CANAINPESCA.

Internet Links

5. General legal frameworks

Mexican legislation related to the management of natural resources includes the General Law of National Properties (1982, 1994), Law of National Waters (1992), General Law of Ecology and Environmental Protection (1988,1996) as well as Article 27 of the National Constitution (Álvarez-Torres et al. 2003). The highest ranking, and more specific instrument of Mexican fisheries legislation is the Federal Fisheries Law (Ley de Pesca). It gives general guidelines to regulate fisheries and can be modified through the intervention of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. From this general law stems the Fisheries Regulation (Reglamento de la Ley Federal de Pesca) made by the Executive on the basis of the general guidelines given in the Federal Law. It deals with more particular aspects and can be modified without the intervention of the Legislature, which results in some degree of flexibility.

More particular instruments of legislation are the Mexican Official Standards (Normas Oficiales Mexicanas, NOMs) that deal with aspects such as regulating mesh sizes, types of fishing gear used, spatial restrictions and the like that need to be changed from time to time and which, if included in a more general instrument, would make the regulating process cumbersome. The process that shapes (or modifies) NOMs involves the participation of stakeholders, NGOs and other interest groups in committees. The conduct of these committees is regulated by the Federal Metrology and Normalization Law (Ley Federal de Metrología y Normalización). Although the Fisheries regulatory agency (at present CONAPESCA) is the one that makes the final decision (and bears full responsibility for it) this process is further enhanced by stakeholder participation.

From 1994 to 2000, several NOMs, were developed which included traditional regulations such as permits, gear specifications, season closures, area closures, size limits, quota limits, turtle excluding devices (TEDs), and by-catch excluding devices. Until 2000, only 14 fisheries were regulated under NOMs. These are shown in the next table (taken from Hernandez and Kempton, 2003). Fisheries included in the table discussed below comprise around 62 percent of total catches and those presented in the table but not discussed in detail in the following paragraphs comprise around 1 percent. Other fisheries have had to be regulated mostly with licenses with the INP being consulted, most of the time, on the possibility of awarding them.

A recently implemented instrument in Mexican fisheries management is the National Fisheries Chart (Carta Nacional Pesquera, CNP) elaborated by the INP and published as an Official Decree in 2000 (SEMARNAP, 2000). A modification made to the Fisheries Regulation (amended in September 1999) gave it the function of defining levels of fishing effort applicable to species and groups of species in specific areas and giving guidelines, strategies and provisions for conservation, protection, restoration and management of aquatic resources that could affect their habitat and ecosystems. This modification of the Fisheries Regulation gave the CNP a binding character that must be considered in the process of decision making by management authorities. A useful (in terms of flexibility) characteristic of the CNP is that it can be updated regularly.

Fisheries regulated through Official Standards (NOM)

The NOM year is the first time that regulations appear in this instrument. Regulations included in the NOM are: size limit (SL), quota limit (QL), gear specifications (GS), season closures (SC), area closures (AC), effort limit (EF), turtle excluding devices (TED), by-catch (mammals) excluding devices (BED). (Modified from Hernandez and Kempton, 2003). X* =Not included by Hernandez and Kempton. (1) Limited effort in certain areas. (2) To avoid conflicts between fishermen of Campeche and Yucatan states.

Management Plans (Planes de Manejo) are new instruments aimed at providing guidelines and strategies to manage particular fisheries stated as a particular objective in the recent Sectoral Plan. However, at least presently, no legal support is given to these plans (i.e. they are not defined in the law and are not, therefore, legally binding) and no plan was completed at the time of this writing.

6. Particular fisheries’ management systems

a) Shrimp fishery

This fishery is the most important one in economic terms (21 percent of the total value, 42 percent if we include cultured shrimp, and at least 50 percent of the value of fishing exports), despite being only 2.6 percent of the volume. In 2001 there were 1,375 registered vessels in this fishery (82 percent of the industrial fleet) with unknown number of artisanal vessels also participating (CONAPESCA, 2001).

Catches have been steadily decreasing since 1997 (-10 percent/year in the Gulf of Mexico and –6 percent/year in the Pacific). In some areas, like the Campeche Area, stocks have been severely affected by overfishing. Pink shrimp catches in that area have fallen from 20,000 mt/yr in 1970 to 500 mt/yr in 2001.

Competition between artisanal and industrial fisheries is increasing and is an important driving factor in management. In both Mexican coasts the industrial fleets catch nearly 60 percent of the total (and above 70 percent of the value).

This fishery was one of the first ones to be assessed and regulated. The first closed season was implemented in 1938 to protect individual growth until it reached commercial sizes. In 1960 the closed season began to protect the main spawning period. In 1977 mesh size regulations were introduced (Sierra et al., 2000). This fishery was one of the first (along with the tuna fishery) to be regulated by a Mexican Official Standard (NOM-002-PESC-1993). This NOM states as its objective to “attain an adequate development of the fishery and an optimum exploitation from a biologic and socioeconomic point of view”.

Technical measures: This fishery has been managed primarily through closed seasons. Although they have been in use in the Pacific for decades, it was only until 1993 that they began to be established in the Gulf of Mexico. In the Pacific, the closed season has been aimed at protecting the main spawning event and the growth of the resultant cohorts in coastal lagoons to commercial sizes that migrate offshore. As the shrimp industry is a sequential one, restricting lagoon fisheries results in an increase of the biomass available to offshore industrial fisheries. As the biggest yield per recruit (and economic value) is obtained at sizes caught by industrial vessels at sea, maximizing production along with the coexistence of artisanal and industrial fleets results in conflicting objectives and constant arguments between those sectors. In some places, like Tamaulipas in the Gulf of Mexico, closed seasons have unintentionally turned into an allocation instrument (Fernández et al., 2000).

Some closed areas have been established for the protection of juvenile shrimp like the coastal waters (up to 15 nm from shore) and lagoons in the Yucatan peninsula. Also, trawling is forbidden in waters of less than five fathoms. Enforcement has been rather lax, however.

Mesh size regulations exists within the NOM for shrimp trawlers and artisanal gear like castnets, the “suripera” (a special type of driftnet) and fixed gears like “tapos” and “charangas”.

Input controls: Regulations about the types of (and engines used in) vessels for artisanal and industrial fisheries exists within the NOM. The type of fishing gear in both fisheries is also regulated.

The only effort-restriction regulation that exists is a policy of not awarding new permits. No restriction on fishing power or its modifications exists either. The trip duration or operational zones are not restricted, so concentrations of fleet from several states result in locally increasing fishing mortality. Enforcement has been lax, so illegal fishing is a frequent occurrence.

Output controls: At present, there are no output controls in this fishery.

Economic incentives: Given its importance, the declining catches and increased competition in this fishery made it a “natural candidate” for subsidies. With the new administration, subsidies on the price of diesel for fishing vessels was introduced, followed by a subsidy on gasoline for outboard motors in artisanal fisheries. No data were available at the time of this writing on the amounts earmarked for these subsidies. In 2002, a compensatory quota was awarded to artisanal fishermen of Sinaloa (in the Gulf of California) who weren’t able to catch a fixed quantity of shrimp. Criticism was voiced about the possibility of this quota being an incentive for underreporting.

b) Tuna fishery

Around 40 percent of tuna catches in the Eastern Tropical Pacific comes from the Mexican EEZ. Mexican catches grew from 40,000 mt to 120,000 mt after the adoption of the 200 nm EEZ after 1982 (Dreyfus, et al., 2000). A new fleet of purse seiners replaced the old baitboats that composed the Mexican fleet. Since the early nineties, catches oscillate around 140,000 mt. Development of the fishery has been hampered by the US embargo on Mexican tuna because of the incidental mortality of dolphins (seen by many as a trade-related measure). A longliner fleet is developing in the Gulf of Mexico, beginning to fill the void left by American and Japanese fleets that operated there in the past. This is one of the few Mexican fisheries with potential for increasing catches. Many aspects of the management of this fishery are determined by the need to reduce dolphin mortality. This fishery was the first regulated by a NOM (NOM-PESC-001 in 1993). The NOM has as objective “To reduce incidental mortality of dolphins during fishing operations of the tuna fleet in the Eastern Tropical Pacific”. This NOM incorporated previous regulations like those imposed in 1977 on gear and maneuver to avoid dolphin mortality, making compulsory in 1987 to have observers onboard and forbidding night operations in 1990. Mexico is a member of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC).

Technical measures: Regulations include the obligation to incorporate modifications in the purse seine to help keep dolphins from tangling in the net, maneuvers to allow dolphins to escape and provisions for personnel to help them avoid tangling.

Input controls: The NOM includes regulations on the relationship of the size of the boat to the safety mesh in the purse seine. No regulation exists regarding fishing effort.

Output controls: No internal output regulation exists at present nor any restrictions on output as a result of Mexico belonging to CIAT or ICCAT.

Economic incentives: This fishery should profit as a result the fuel subsidies being put in place in this administration.

c) Octopus Fishery

In 1997 this fishery reached the third place in economic value, 5.9 percent of the total, after tuna and shrimp, due to a combination of high international prices and exceptional catches (25,000 mt) (Solis et al. 1998). At present, catches oscillate around 16,000 mt and economic value is closer to 2 percent of the total. Most of the catches are concentrated around Yucatan and Campeche, in the Southern Gulf of Mexico. This is a mixed fishery, where artisanal and industrial fishermen operate using the same fishing gear, a small wooden vessel with fishing rods. These are carried by fiberglass small vessels, near shore, in the artisanal fishery and by mid size vessels in deeper waters, in the industrial fishery. Although regulations exist on fishing gears, fishing season and a quota, this fishery has been more effectively regulated by market mechanisms (like demand in the international market) and the occasional natural phenomenon (like red tides and hurricanes). This is one of the few fisheries regulated by a quota in Mexico (the others being grouper and abalone). This fishery is regulated by the NOMM-008-1993. Its established objective is “To define the optimal terms and conditions for the optimum exploitation of Octopus species”

Technical measures: The NOM includes regulations on minimum legal size and a closed season. Although a measure has been taken, forbidding artisanal fishermen from Yucatan to fish in Campeche waters in 2002, this was adopted to avoid conflicts between the fishermen of the two states because of their competition for the resource. This measure is not included in the NOM.

Input controls: There is no restriction on fishing effort, other than a policy based on recommendations of not awarding new permits (Solis et al 1998). The NOM includes regulations forbidding the use of hooks or harpoons.

Output controls: There is a quota, not included in the NOM. However, as most industrial vessels’ typical trip lasts around fifteen days and no onboard inspection scheme exists this has proved a difficult regulation to enforce.

Economic incentives: This fishery should also profit from the fuel subsidies being put in place in this administration.

d) Grouper fishery

This fishery is localized on the Yucatán shelf. Three fleets operate in this area, the artisanal fishery (near shore), the Mexican industrial fleet, in deeper waters, and the Cuban industrial fleet that operates under bi-lateral agreements between Cuba and Mexico since 1976. Catches have decreased from 15,000 mt in the early nineties to around 10,000 mt at the end of that decade, stabilizing a little above that figure in the last years. No specific NOM exists for this fishery. A quota exists for the Cuban fleet, but it should be seen as an allocation mechanism. This quota is reviewed every two years (Monroy et al., 2000).

Technical measures: No closed season or closed areas regulation exist for this fishery.

Input controls: No regulation on effort exists although recommendations of Mexican and Cuban experts include not raising effort above present levels and not increasing fishing power.

Output controls: As mentioned, a quota exists for Cuban vessels as an allocation instrument.

Economic incentives: Mexican fishermen in this fishery may possibly receive subsidies under the new administration.

e) Giant squid fishery

Catches in this fishery have been highly variable in the last two decades as the presence of the giant squid is related to oceanographic conditions not well understood. In this fishery big industrial Asiatic vessels have operated under co-investment agreements, but catches come mostly from artisanal or adapted industrial vessels that participate in other fisheries like that of shrimp. At present no NOM exists for this fishery, although recommendations for not increasing effort have been issued by the INP (Morales et al., 2000).

Technical measures, Input controls, Output controls: At present, no regulations exist.

Economic incentives: As the other fisheries mentioned in this brief, it could benefit from the new subsidies scheme.

f) Sardine fishery

For the last two decades, since the collapse of the anchovy fishery, the sardine fishery has been the most important in volume, 36 percent of national catches, caught around the Baja California Peninsula. However, it only represents somewhat less than 2 percent of the total value. Catches have been highly variable. It was one of the first Mexican fisheries to be regulated with a NOM (NOM-003-PESC-1993), and whose objective was “to define terms and conditions for the optimum exploitation of sardine, anchovy and mackerel with purse seines”.

Technical measures: Regulations on closed seasons, minimum sizes and closed areas exist.

Input controls: Regulations exist on the type of boat (with or without refrigeration equipment) that could operate in certain areas (above the 20th parallel) as well as the number of boats that can operate in that area.

Output controls: No TACs or quotas are established for this fishery.

Economic incentives: This fishery could profit from subsidies to diesel.

g) Shark fishery

This fishery has a high social importance as it is mostly exploited by artisanal vessels. At present, catches reach around 28,000 mt. and have been steadily decreasing from the historical maximum of near 35,000 mt in the mid-nineties. The number of vessels that participate in this fishery is not known. The main fishing gear used are gillnets and longlines (Márquez, 2000). Some controversies have arisen around the fishery of oceanic sharks. Although it has been pointed out that some potential for development exists in the oceanic shark fishery, the status of the species involved is uncertain. Additionally, by-catches includes a high proportion of billfish with some of those species reserved for sport fisheries in a zone up to 50 nm from shore. This is a proposed, although not yet approved, NOM allowed fishing for shark in that area. Protests from NGO’s (arguing over ecological effects of longlines and drifnets), artisanal fishermen (on the grounds of privileging industrial fishermen) as well as sport fishermen (arguing that it was a way to exploit the reserved species by industrial fishermen) prevented the NOM from being approved in its original form. Despite these controversial aspects, the proposed NOM includes recommendations that will be shown below.

Technical measures: The proposed NOM includes proposals on closed seasons, closed areas and mesh size control.

Input controls: No regulation exists, although proposals of not increasing effort have been made. Regulations on gear are also included in the proposed NOM.

Output controls: No regulation exists or is proposed. The NOM includes proposed regulations on forbidding catch sharks only for their fins.

Economic incentives: Both industrial and artisanal fishermen possibly could profit from the new subsidies scheme.

Species included in the fisheries discussed

Pacific shrimp

Litopeneaus stylirostris (blue shrimp), L. setiferus (white shrimp), Farfantepenaeus californiensis (brown shrimp) and other from Sicyonia and Trachypenaeus.

Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean shrimp

Litopenaeus vannamei (whiteleg shrimp), Farfantepenaeus aztecus (brown shrimp), F. duorarum (pink shrimp), F. brasiliensis (red shrimp) and other species from the Sicyonia and Xiphopenaeus genus.

Tuna: Thunnus alalunga (albacore), T. albacares (yellowfin tuna), T. thynnus (bluefin tuna), Katsuwonus pelamis (skipjack), Sarda chilensis (bonito) and others.

Octopus: Octopus maya (Mayan octopus) and Octopus vulgaris (red octopus, common octopus)

Grouper: Epinephelus morio

Giant squid: Dosidicus gigas

Sardine: Sardinops caeruleus (Monterrey sardine), Scomber japonicus (mackerel) and others from Cetengraulis, Opisthonema and Etrumeus genus.

Sharks: At least 28 species from Sphyrna, Charcharinus, Squalus, Rhizoprionodon, Squatina, Prionace, Nasolamia, Echinorhinus, Alopias, Negaprion, Isurus, Mustelus,


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