Byline: Taylor Hill
SAN DIEGO — Boat-owning anglers and San Diego’s sportfishing fleet have been experiencing a roller coaster of a fishing season, with the warmer water producing good numbers of exotics offshore and along Mexico’s coast — but new fishing regulations and stepped-up Mexican navy patrols to enforce them have been keeping U.S. anglers on their toes.
While the fleet and private boaters have been treading lightly, recent talks between Port of San Diego officials, sportfishing advocates, Mexican immigration officers and the Mexican navy have renewed hope that a solution can be found. A current crackdown on visiting boaters from the U.S. has effectively resulted in a fishing “lockdown” of the Mexican coast near the border.
“I’m really cautiously optimistic at this point,” said Port of San Diego spokeswoman Michelle Gannon, following an Aug. 27 meeting between representatives of the Port of San Diego, the Port of Ensenada, the undersecretary of tourism for Baja California, the Mexican navy, Mexican customs and immigration officers, and the Sportfishing Association of California.
“We had a very engaging conversation; about a 2.5-hour meeting,” Gannon said. “We talked about the vital importance of cooperating between both sides of border, and finding a solution that can facilitate the cruise, sportfishing and marine recreational industries on both sides of the border.”
Problems started when a new regulation was issued by Mexican immigration officials last winter, mandating that all boats involved in recreation in Mexico waters within 24 miles of the shoreline must obtain a Multiple Migratory Form (FMM) Permit, costing around $23.
While the permit was originally able to be obtained at the San Diego sportfishing landings in America’s Cup Harbor, the sole service offering the permit was later removed. That left sportfishing fleet vessels and anglers aboard private boats with only one legal option, if they wanted to fish at the nearby Los Coronados islands: Go all the way to the Port of Ensenada to obtain a permit before heading out to fish.
This hassle proved to be too much for San Diego’s sportfishing and passenger fleets, which opted to stay outside of the 24-mile zone after a few vessels were boarded by Mexican navy officers asking the captains to show their permits.
However, even staying out of the 24-mile coastal zone has not assured boaters that they will be left alone. A recent post from 976-BITE.com reported a sportfishing boat more than 24 miles off the coast that was boarded by Mexican authorities, who asked the captain for a permit from the Port Authority in Ensenada authorizing them to bring tourists into Mexico. They did not have the permit — and they were given a warning.
The same day, several private boaters fishing out on the 371 Bank reported that Mexican navy personnel in launch boats circled them at high speed. They believed that this meant they should leave the area, and they did. The skipper talking about it on the radio felt he and another boat had been “run off” of the fishing spot by the navy.
Until recently, private boaters fishing within the 24-mile zone appeared to be in the clear and not at risk of being boarded by the Mexican navy, but the recent developments have made many U.S. boaters think otherwise.
As the confusion between where anglers can fish and what boats are allowed in what zones persists, the Port of San Diego and the Sportfishing Association of California have issued a list of possible solutions — and in working with the Mexican consulate, immigration officials and the Mexican navy, they hope can clear up the situation.
According to Ken Franke of the Sportfishing Association of California, the hope is that the policies surrounding obtaining the FMM permit can be amended, so that boaters can get the permits and required documents in the U.S. instead of having to make a port call in Ensenada before going fishing.
The two options submitted in the letter included a tourism board office to be located offshore that would be similar to offices on land that can administer the permits. The other option would be to have the Mexican consulate office or the Conapesca office in San Diego have the capability of administering the permits to private boaters.
“We want it to be easy for people to visit Ensenada from the water and fish in Mexico without it costing them a lot of money,” Franke said. “And that’s what we’re working toward with the Mexican government — to see where we can work together in order to benefit their businesses and assist the public in gaining access to Mexico again.”
Gannon said the original list of possible solutions to this issue was presented to the Mexican government in early August, and Mexico officials then sent the list back with recommended modifications.
At press time, the port, along with Franke and other sportfishing advocates, is working toward modifying the proposed solutions with Mexico’s recommendations, and resubmitting them to the undersecretary of tourism in Baja California.
“The meeting was quite productive and positive, and we look forward to working with the staff and port captain of Ensenada to, hopefully, restore marine access to the region.”