Why there are almost no dorado or sailfish left in the Sea of Cortes

Note: July 18, 2015 – here are the results of the Dorado Shootout held at Palmas de Cortez yesterday.  “Team Bite Me takes first place and a 2015 4×4 Toyota Tacoma with a 12.9lbs. dorado plus $24,000 in jackpot money.  The other four major dorado events this year in Puerto Escondido, (Vagabundos del Mar) Loreto, (Fishin for the Mission) Mulege (Bomberos) and Punta Chivato (Bulls Only) had similar results confirming your conclusions in your Dorado story, that the dorado population has been decimated.

Gary Graham

1985, the original panga longliners from Manzanillo – are why the sailfish and dorado are severely depleted today

Panga longliner with billfish

Panga longliners started about 1985 when 200 special permits were issued in Manzanillo for longlining shark. The by- catch of primarily sailfish and some dorado was over 95% of the total catch. At that time these pangas were landing between 150-200 tons of sailfish monthy into the Manzanillo markets. It was from these original 200 permits that the huge panga longline fleet of more than a thousand pangas rapidly developed. By the mid 1990’s sailfish and dorado were severally depleted in the Sea of Cortes and today they are almost gone.

panga longliner 2 DSC00066

Panga longliners caught around 1500 to 2000 kilos of dorado daily/panga in the mid to late 1980’s and could make over $500 usd per fishermen.

 Long-Lining for the Fish of Gold

A story of two brothers from Guaymas in the mid 1990’s – written by Mike Brozda as told by Edgar Calderon.

It’s 3 AM on a muggy June morning in 1994 in the seaside city of Guaymas on the mainland side of the Sea of Cortes. In the pre-dawn darkness, teenage brothers Jose Luis and Edgar Ceseña Calderón are preparing their 26-foot-long panga for a marathon fishing session. Their target is one of the most beautiful, hardest-fighting, mouth-watering fish in the world. By any measure, Coryphaena hippurus are magnificent creatures. Found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world, the fish are known by several different names, which sometimes causes confusion. In the Hawaiian language, and on many menus, the fish are called mahi-mahi, meaning “very strong fish”.

Panga longliners set between  2000 and 2500 hooks daily

 In Mexico and many Spanish-speaking parts of the world, the fish are known as Dorado, meaning “golden,” which is my favorite name. Dorados have dazzling golden colors running the length of the body on both sides of their bodies, and, while they’re alive, bright blues and greens on the sides and back.  With their long, slender bodies, Dorado are hard-fighting, flashy fish capable of incredible bursts of speed and have been clocked up to 92.6 km/hr. (57.5 miles per hour).

Dorado on Illegal Longline

This beautiful dorado hooked by an illegal panga longliner near San Marcos Island.

Everything aboard the Calderón brothers’ panga is arranged for maximum efficiency. Two-hundred-and-thirty kilograms (500 pounds) of shaved ice are packed into three different holds aboard the boat. Hundreds of barbed steel fishhooks dangle neatly from the gunwales, along with one-liter plastic milk jugs that will serve as floats to mark the hooks once they are in the water. Coiled on the foredeck is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) of pinky-finger-thick polypropylene line (linea madre) and on special racks hung over 2000 hooks lines and clips. The Calderón brothers are long-lining for dorado. During June, July and August, the blistering summer season when dorado are biting on the Sea of Cortez, the brothers will work nonstop for up to 22 hours per day. “It’s terrible work, and I hated it,” said Edgar Calderón. “Sometimes I wouldn’t see my family for days or weeks at a time.”

High Earnings Drive Illegal Fishing

Leaving from Guaymas, about 1:30 am, they first catch squid and then head for the Baja. It takes the brothers more than two hours of blasting through the chop to reach to their fishing grounds off Baja California’s San Marcos Island by 5:30 am. In a well-choreographed deadly ballet, they  toss a plastic barrel with a flag, tied to one end of the linea madre and immediately begin feeding out the polypro line. Every 5 meters (16  feet) they clip a baited hook and a plastic float bottle onto a four-foot-long leader. Motoring slowly, it takes more than four hours to set the entire six miles of line and over 2000 baited hooks.

During the height of the fishery in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s over 700 pangas from Guaymas worked in this fishery

Now the hard, bloody work begins. Quickly returning to the plastic barrel, the brothers begin to pull in the polypro line. A sharp knife flashes as each fish is bled out and tossed into the hold. A layer of fish, a layer of ice. Repeat. Re-set the hook on the gunwale rack and bring in the float. As they die in the hold, the Dorados quickly lose their rainbow colors and the skin fades of a lifeless gray. By the brothers’ count, many hooks contain a Dorado; a few are empty. The rest of the catch is considered “worthless.” There are seabirds, sharks, rays, turtles, perhaps an occasional juvenile marlin or sailfish. By the time they return to Guaymas, unload and sell their catch it is usually after 11 pm.

When the Calderón brothers first began long-lining for dorado in 1994, late in the game as dorado were already declining, a good day’s catch could bring in as much as 2180 kilograms (4,800 pounds) of illegal fish. As with most fishermen in Mexico, the Calderón brothers don’t own their own panga and motor. Instead, the boats generally belong to a middleman, who is also usually the buyer for the catch. After paying for gas, ice, equipment and rental of the panga, each brother once earned up to US $600 per day for his work. Included in the middleman’s cut is money to pay for the fishermen’s share of a bribe to local authorities. That’s a lot of money. For comparison, on January 1, 2014, the Mexican government set a new minimum wage standard for the country of about US $5 per day.

In three days of successful dorado fishing, the Calderóns earned far more than the entire year’s salary of a Mexican laborer.

Edgar, now 42 and Jose Luis, 38, gave up long-lining  1996 when the dorado populations became so depleted that it was no longer profitable to fish. “During the height of the Guaymas-based fishery, the approximately 70 pangas in the Calderon brothers cooperativa were bringing more than 80 tons of Dorado per day to the beaches located near the Navy base in Guaymas,” McGettigan says. There were 10 times that many boats (700) working dorado just from the Kino to Guaymas area. “7 years of illegal fishing by over 1000  pangas had decimated the dorado fishery in the Sea of Cortes” and 20 years later dorado populations are still declining in the Sea of Cortes.

Manzanillo sailfish 1This was from an old  2002 Manzanillo newspaper talking about the 150 to 200 tons of Pez Vela (sailfish) killed monthly by the pangas with the newly issued shark permits.

 

A must see video that nails the Dorado problem. Done by Vince Radice.     http://worldsaquarium.com/documentary-on-illega-dorado-fising-in-sea-of-cortes-el-oro-de-cortes/

 

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4 Comments

  1. July 21, 2015    

    Mike:

    Below are the results of the Dorado Shootout held at Palmas de Cortez yesterday.

    “Team Bite Me takes first place and a 2015 4×4 Toyota Tacoma with a 12.9lbs. dorado plus $24,000 in jackpot money.
    Team Borrachos & Amigos takes the $509 &$1,000 jackpots for $40,000.

    Team Eat Me Lures on board the Julkate takes the Suzuki 140hp Engine with a 37lb. Wahoo. Congrats to all the winners of the 2015 Dorado Shoot Out.

    The other four major dorado events this year in Puerto Escondido, (Vagabundos del Mar) Loreto, (Fishin for the Mission) Mulege (Bomberos) and Punta Chivato (Bulls Only) had similar results confirming your conclusions in your Dorado story, that the dorado population has been decimated.

    Gary Graham

  2. July 23, 2015    

    Mike that is a great history of the destruction of a species. I would simply add to it that by the time I decided to start documenting the rape and pillage of Dorado, around 2006, the dynamics of the illegal fishery changed drastically. What the fish mafias of Guaymas started doing was towing pangas to Isla Tortuga and San Marcos. 10 or more pangas would be towed by the mother ship from Guaymas across to the baja. We of course documented all of that in our documentary el Oro de Cortes.

    http://worldsaquarium.com/documentary-on-illega-dorado-fising-in-sea-of-cortes-el-oro-de-cortes/

    There is at the moment no long line fishery out of Guaymas since there are not significant amounts of dorado in the area to make commercial fishing of the species viable. We have seen a few more sharks here lately and soon I am going to post a horrific video of some sport fisherman killing a tiny shark that was recently caught close to San Pedro Island.

    Thanks again for all you have done and we look forward to working with you in the future, the new web site design looks great!!

    Saludos de San Carlos

    Vince

    • July 24, 2015    

      Vince, thanks and speaking of longliners and drift gillnet boats, I’m not seeing large longliners nor drift gillnetters at the Islands or on this side of the Baja. As I remember the shark norma -029 was going to stop the drift gillnet boats after 3 years. Did it and what are you seeing over there? It would be nice to have something good come from the norma.

  3. Lorileeca Lorileeca
    September 4, 2015    

    We have lived in Manzanillo for 10 1/2 years and vacationed for 7 before moving here permanently. One of the reasons for moving here was the incredible Sport Fishing. We have watched the Long liners destroy the fishing year after year and the government do nothing about it. We have seen the Charter boat Captains coming in with less and less happy fishermen but they can do little for if they complain they find their boats vandalized or worse. As we have seen throughout the world when they have destroyed the fishery and the fisherman have no fish to catch and no income, and the Charter boats with no clients perhaps they may smarten up. From what we are experiencing this not far in the future any longer.

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