Monday, May 12, 2008
A New Breed…Time Will Tell
As the bright yellow air line began trailing behind the diver, the pangero began rowing to keep up. “Our diver doesn’t walk, he runs” Juanchys boasted.
We were up before sunrise on the morning of the second day of our trip and hurried down to the beach where the Cooperativa had gathered for the day’s commercial activity.
The crews were given a sheet of paper containing GPS coordinates, the quota of abalone to be harvested that day and a handheld GPS. Each panga was equipped with a small compressor and 150’ of air hose, and consisted of a crew of three, the panguero, a diver and the diver’s attendant. As promised, Juanchys had arranged for Glen and me to ride with them on one of the commercial pangas.
Soon all of the pangas were loaded and headied out to their assigned areas to begin the day’s work.
In less than thirty minutes, we were on the spot. With a yank on the cord, the compressor sputtered to life and over the side went the heavily weighted, wetsuited-diver as he plunged to the bottom forty feet below. I watched as Juanchys managed the air and safety line.
As the bright yellow air line began trailing behind the diver, the panguero began rowing to keep up.
“Our diver doesn’t walk, he runs,” Juanchys boasted. You see, they are not really divers, instead of fins, they wear protective boots and enough weights to keep them firmly planted on the bottom.
After fifteen minutes the diver popped to the surface and climbed into the boat, complaining that the bottom was devoid of rocks and consisted only of sand. The motor roared to life and we made a few hundred yard adjustment.
The diver returned to the bottom and it was barely fifteen minutes before there was a pull on the safety line signaling his dive bag was ready to be retrieved. Juanchys tugged and grunted as he hauled the overflowing bag of abalone to the surface.
An overflowing bag of abalone is carefully measured and counted
Carefully counting and measuring the catch and setting aside the shorts before putting the abalone in the box, Juanchys scrawled the total of 27 with a pencil on the boat seat. When the next bag was hauled to the surface it contained 52 more shellfish.
By now many pangas in our fleet were wrapping up and heading back to the beach having reached the day’s quota of 120 abalone.
Juanchys smiled, “Fifteen more minutes.” And sure enough, Carlos soon bobbed to the surface with the remaining 31 to complete the day’s quota. The few shorts that had been collected were returned by the diver who carefully placed them on a rock on the bottom.
Back on the beach Juanchys introduced me to Enrique Lucero, Cooperativa Administrator, a young man who appeared to be equally as comfortable on the damp sandy beach as he would be back in his office at the recently completed cannery. Enrique oversees the entire commercial abalone and lobster operation for La Bocana and was supervising the offloading of the day’s catch.
“All the Cooperativas along the west coast from Turtle Bay to San Ignacio have banded together.” He explained. “As a group they have been able to apply innovative techniques to both lobster and abalone fisheries, with a common goal of restoring a sustainable fishery that produces a consistent yield from year to year while increasing the resource.”
Employing their own marine biologists, they have developed formulas that allow them to do just that and both the lobster and abalone stocks seem to be growing in spite of the continued commercial harvesting.
Enrique also indicated that his group is interested in developing more tourism and sportfishing throughout the Vizcaíno region in the future. Later during my trip I spoke with a hotel owner who had visited the area recently and was considering establishing an operation there.
THE RECENTLY COMPLETED cannery is a technological marvel employing state of the art equipment
The newly completed cannery is a technological marvel employing state of the art equipment to process the catch and send the product off to market as efficiently as possible. Enrique encouraged Glenn and me to visit the facility.
Less than an hour after returning to the beach, we were at the cannery. We donned protective wear and were taken inside of the facility. The crews were already wrapping up after processing the entire fleet’s catch for the day.
After watching the commercial fishermen and their Cooperativas decimate marine resource after resource in Baja over the years, spending the morning on the panga with a crew that was careful to adhere to the instructions they were given, then, listening to Enrique as he enthusiastically outlined goals and techniques being implemented by his group to maintain the resources, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of hope that maybe some of the new breed of commercial fishermen are beginning to get it right!