One million and four hundred thousand Mexicans depend on fisheries for their livelihoods, but fish stocks are under enormous pressure. Eduardo Rolón, Executive Director of the Mexican NGO Causa Natura, explained to the FiTI Secretariat in an interview how the FiTI could play a critical role in protecting the long-term health of Mexico’s fish stocks and safeguarding critical jobs.
Mexico has some of the world’s most productive fisheries, catching more in 2012 than both Iceland and Morocco. But Rolón says the benefits of these fisheries are not shared equally, an injustice that drives the work of Causa Natura.
“Fisheries are a public good, so we should look for equitable benefits to all stakeholders”, he says, adding that the pressure on fish stocks also stems from a lack of transparency and from limited participation in major fisheries decisions.
The Government does disclose important data on its website, but “forward-looking officials” need more and better information to manage the country’s fisheries sustainably, Rolón says.
The government publishes information on fishing permits, for example, but this information does not yet include details of boat ownership.
“If you also consider that a permit can be used for many vessels, it is impossible to know who fishes what and how much.”
Not knowing where vessels are allowed to fish is another drawback. Causa Natura has only broad information on where vessels are authorized to fish. Rolón says this is a major problem because vessels might be fishing in areas where, according to scientists, fish stocks are already overfished. “We want to know what is happening there!” Rolón says.
Data on foreign vessels is a bigger issue. When Rolón first asked for this information from the Government, the authorities declined on grounds of confidentiality. Making this information transparent could damage bilateral relations with those fishing countries, they said. After using the access-to-information mechanism available in Mexican legislation, Rolón has now learnt that Cuban, European and American-flagged boats have been fishing in Mexican waters.
Nevertheless, he reckons this information should be actively disclosed to the public by governmental authorities, so that Mexicans know the country of origin, name of right holder, precise fishing locations, and the type of fishing activities that these foreign boats are doing.
So when he heard about the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI) shedding light on who has what fishing rights and for how much money, he immediately saw the potential for Mexico.
He says the FiTI offers what the country needs: not just information, but instead more useful information. Having complete and relevant information is the only way for the Government to manage the country’s fisheries more sustainably, he says.
Making fisheries information more accessible will also allow the public to evaluate how their country’s fisheries are managed. By increasing accountability, the FiTI will support more effective management.
“Making fisheries management more transparent would enable people to engage with the issues and to push for change,” he says.
The Mexican government has sought to increase engagement and participation through the establishment of the National Fisheries Council and various scientific networks. But Rolón says these bodies do not fully represent all stakeholder groups.
Here again, the FiTI could be an important part of the solution. To become compliant, each candidate country must establish a FiTI multi-stakeholder group that represents all major stakeholder groups equally. In this way, the FiTI process guarantees that all opinions are taken into account.
Rolón is confident that involving fishermen in the process will push them to take more responsibility.
As the FiTI readies for its first international conference, Rolón is encouraged to see more and more countries considering implementation. He hopes that this will generate peer pressure and positive competition for more responsible fisheries management in Mexico.