Challenges and Opportunities for Small Fishermen in Mexico

Small fishermen suffer from irregular fishing, lack of social protection, and budget cuts. Climate change causes variations in the biological structure of some marine species and the migration of others.

Challenges and Opportunities for Small Fishermen in Mexico
Warning of the difficult situation faced by small fishermen in Mexico. Photo by Roberto Carlos Román Don / Unsplash

Artisanal or coastal fishing - carried out by small groups of up to 11 people using traditional techniques with little technological development within the so-called territorial sea (12 nautical miles away) - makes up more than 90 percent of Mexico's fishing fleet, which comprises 97,000 vessels. However, these fishermen face considerable socioeconomic and environmental challenges, according to researchers from UNAM's Institute of Geography (IGg).

For example, they lack social protection, suffer scarce budgetary investment from institutions with fishing responsibilities, and have great variability in their working conditions, because while some have permits and motorized vessels, others modestly go to sea, said José Manuel Crespo Guerrero, researcher of the Department of Economic Geography of the IGg.

During the distance media conference Socioeconomic and environmental challenges of artisanal fisheries in Mexico, offered on the occasion of the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022, the geographer said that in Mexico the fishing economy is structured around a limited number of species: shrimp (which accounted for 45 percent of catches in 2019), mojarra (8 percent), tuna (five percent) and octopus (four percent).

Mexico has signed 12 free trade agreements with 46 countries, and this positions it before a market of approximately 1.5 billion people. "It ranks 11th globally in food production: crops and primary livestock. And it ranks 17th in fishery and aquaculture products, where it stands out in the production of shrimp and octopus."

Raúl Aguirre Gómez, the researcher of the Geospatial Analysis Laboratory of the IGg, referred to the environmental challenges of artisanal fishing, such as the effects of climate change that have caused the migration of some species and variations in the biological structure of others such as the giant squid; or the occurrence of the El Niño or La Niña phenomena, which modify the sea temperature in some areas in certain years.

"The temperature has been increasing and the planet, in general, has been warming. This has a particular impact on the marine issue, as it forces fishery resources to look for a change in the places where they live, which causes species migration and many of them are altered in their vital part and may tend to disappear," he explained.

This has repercussions on the economy; there have even been conflicts between nations over certain species, such as the mackerel that migrated from Norway to Iceland, the salmon that moved from the United States to Canada, and the sardine that is migrating from northern Mexico to California.

To study these migratory phenomena and the shoaling areas, the IGg generates satellite images of color and sea surface temperature, barometric information (referring to sea depths), scenario generation, and integration of the information with Geographic Information Systems.

Olivia Salmerón García, the researcher of the Geospatial Analysis Laboratory of the IGg, said that the main environmental challenge is climate change, facing the effects of extreme meteorological phenomena and hurricanes. "This International Year of Fisheries and Artisanal Aquaculture, the United Nations Assembly established it to put a kind of halt, to review how the goals that were set to be achieved with the 2030 Agenda are going".

The goals include reducing poverty, and inequalities and addressing climate change; of these, the 14th stands out, referring to the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.

"This involves reducing marine pollution, protecting aquatic ecosystems, reducing ocean acidification, developing scientific capacity about fisheries, and improving the application of international law related to sustainable use," she said.

Salmerón García commented that in the Geospatial Analysis Laboratory they analyze the dynamics of temperature, sea level, and chlorophyll, as well as monitor currents and cyclonic gyres to diagnose the conditions of the country's fisheries.