Is it Legal to Catch Lobster and Conch in Mexico?

Wow. What a loaded question! When I started researching for this article I thought I would look around for a few minutes and have a clear answer for a short and informative article but I have been at it for quite some time and still don’t really have anything super clear to pass on. I am an avid diver/snorkeler, fisherman, spear fisherman, and all around waterman, so having the answer to this is very important for me.

I have been in Mahahual for around 2 years and during conversations with various people at various times I thought that I had answers only to find that what one person says is different from what another will tell me, leaving me very confused and conflicted. Supporting the environment and enjoying it sustainably is very important to my wife and I so we always try and make sure that we follow the rules that are in place wherever we go.  But like a lot of things down here, there is a lot of heresay. If you want to find the truth you have to go and find it yourself.

However, in this case, I can fully understand the confusion. During my time in Florida over the past 10 years, fishing up and down the coast and into the keys, my friends and I anxiously waited for lobster season to start every year. It has always been a special time for us to get a trip together and catch ourselves a delicious meal while enjoying the majesty of the natural environment. Finding the rules and regulations has always been easy and at the beginning of every season we go to walmart, pay for our fishing licenses and lobster tags, get the regulations book and everything is clear. Unfortunately in Quintana Roo, it isn’t that easy.

Around here some people in town will take conch and lobster out of the water with reckless abandon. Some people will tell you that there are seasons but when the season starts you can take what you want. Some people say that in the case of conch, you aren’t supposed to take any at all, the same as it is in Florida. But hardly a week goes by where I don’t see some kids walking down the street, dive gear in hand, with a lasso of lobster at their side, a smile on their face and no concern to hide the haul at all. The same wave of emotions washes over me every time I see it, starting with jealousy then excitement then anger to finally confusion.  Frequently the familiar ding-dong of a passing bike vendor reveals lobster and conch for sale for cheap. So what gives??

Here is what I found…

On the SAGARPA website, which seems to be the official government body in charge of fishing regulations in Mexico, is a short list of fishing rules that only has one mention of shellfish and crustaceans: “The sports fishing license only permits the capture of fish. It does not permit that capture of shellfish and mollusks and their capture is strictly prohibited”. That seems pretty cut and dry and I could live with that if that were the rule but how can it be if I see so many people openly enjoying conch and lobster? It also seems a little restrictive and absolute, especially for Mexico, so I dug further.

I asked local environmental champion Victor Rosales, founder of Project AAK Mahahual, an official non-profit organization involved in everything conservation, what he knew. I had seen him post a graphic on conch season and figured he had all of the information I needed. He passed along this other graphic with seasons for protected species which seemed to sum it up nicely…

seasons

This seems to clearly show that there are seasons so how could it be completely prohibited? Also notice that there is no seal from, or mention of, SAGARPA on this graphic. However there are seals from SEMARNAT (The Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources) and CONANP (National Commission for Protected Natural Areas) which only adds to the confusion. Who is in charge? Who makes the rules? I attempted to contact SAGARPA through their website to find some clarity but the message wouldn’t go through…SURPRISE!

Still searching for answers, I found a video from CONANP that seemed to throw a wrench into the whole thing…

Apparently in 2016 all of the waters off the coast of the state of Quintano Roo were declared a protected biosphere reserve! 5.7 million acres in total. I knew that certain areas like Banco Chincorro, Sian Ka’an, and Xcalak were biosphere reserves but the entire state?? What does that mean for fishing? Is it permitted at all? How do people not know this? How could this be true but the website for SAGARPA simultaneously reflects rules allowing for fishing?? Are there local state fishing regulations that are different? Where could I find that info?? It was all too confusing…

Upon further reading I saw an article from June 2nd this year stating that there was a plan in action regarding the biosphere reserve. For those of you who don’t speak spanish the article states that the area was declared a reserve almost 2 years ago but the elaborate plan on how to manage it has been going through the bureaurcratic approval process and should be finished by December of this year. So maybe then we will have some concrete answers.

The best thing that you can do until then as a responsible tourist is to buy conch and lobster only during their open season and only from local fishing co-operatives. I am not sure about catching them yourself but if you must, do not take conch under any circumstance as they are threatened, and do not take lobster out of season, under-sized, or if they are a female with eggs. If you absolutely must catch them yourselves, try and use the regulations from Florida, which have allowed for a sustainable fishing practice there, as a general guide and apply them when in the area until we find out what the new rules are under the biosphere reserve. If we respect nature and care for it, we can make sure that it will be around for us to enjoy for a long time to come.

I hope this helps. Stay tuned for updates on the rules as I find out more!

 

Quintana Roo Mexico Winning the Battle Against Sargassum

The government of the state of Quintana Roo, home to tourist beaches like Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, and Mahahual has been raging a war against the invasion of the seaweed sargassum in recent months and it appears they are winning. Through innovation and teamwork many weapons have been put in place and the beaches are much better. Check out this cool video to see one of the ways in which the sargassum is being stopped from inundating out beaches!

Locals Spotlight #3

evan

This edition of Locals Spotlight we are reaching waaaaaay back in the bag of locals and Talking to Evan Mckenzie, the well-known and long established owner of Nacional Beach Club, a great hotel, restaurant, and all-around hang out spot on the malecon, to find out about himself, his lovely family, and his business. Evan is an “O.G.” of Mahahual, if you will, and has seen a lot of changes to our little community. Let’s dig in…

CML: Thanks for sitting down with me Evan. Let’s jump right in. How did you discover Mahahual and when did you come here for the first time?

Evan: It was the glorious year of 1998 the first time I visited Mahahual with my father.  A neighbor of ours in Playa del Carmen told him about a quiet little fishing village located in the South of Quintana Roo called Xcalak. He bought his first property there in 1997 but it didn’t take him long to decide that Mahahual would probably grow first as a tourist destination. So I came down with him in ’98 to check it out.

CML: What were your impressions of the town? What was it like?

Evan: I remember telling my father when he asked me what I thought about the town of Mahahual as we stood on one of our first 9x18meter lots in the center of Mahahual overlooking the ocean “ Well Dad it is certainly beautiful here but there is not much going on”. To which he replied “You will see that will change with time”. He was absolutely right.

CML: When did you decide to come live here? What was your plan and what did your friends and family think?

Evan: I decided to move to Mahahual in the fall of 2005 once I graduated from Arizona State University with a double degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management & Business Administration. My Family was really very supportive and happy to hear I would be moving to a country full of culture & wonderful people that we all  thoroughly enjoyed visiting throughout my youth.

CML: And at some point you met your wife Ana, who is heavily involved in conservation and recycling with her group “Menos Plastico es Fantastico en Mahahual“. Tell me about that.

Evan: I met my beautiful wife Ana on the beach in Mahahual where else haha? We met while I was having breakfast in the Spring of 2007. The moment I laid eyes on her I was absolutely in love. 

I had just started my first little bohemian restaurant “Cosas Naturales” which only served fresh juices, smoothies,  breakfast, salads & wraps while Ana was working on her first restaurant with one of her best friends which served typical Chilean dishes beach side. 

CML: And then some point later you guys opened Nacional Beach Club right?

Evan: Ana and I decided to develop Nacional Beach Club once FONATUR finished developing the first stage of the malecon in 2008. We started with very basic drawings using our imagination and before long found an architect in Chetumal for the finalized plans & licensing, right where “Cosas Naturales” stood. 

We started with 3 bungalows, a restaurant/bar and three locals to service the beach.  It did not take us long to figure out that there was demand for lodging in the sleepy little village as eager tourists arrived from all over Mexico and the world to visit these tranquil white sand beaches with glistening Caribbean water at is edges. And we’ve been growing ever since then!

CML: So you guys got married and have two beautiful daughters. What is it like raising a family here?

Evan: I have only raised one family and only in Mahahual but could not imagine doing so anywhere else on earth. Many guests at our establishment truly admire us for this as it is such a peaceful place to raise children. 

CML: What are the biggest changes you have seen here, good or bad? How would you like to see Mahahual grow in the future?

Evan: Growth is inevitable but I feel that the condo developments change the image of Mahahual. We should undoubtedly grow green with more emphasis on sustainable tourism, growth & education within our community. We must all agree that no one comes to Mahahual for large shopping plazas or to visit monstrosity hotel chains but simply to enjoy pristine beaches, coral reefs, and to support small business models. 

I strongly believe that Mahahual sells itself, simple as that, and that we the entrepreneurs need to preserve the natural beauty as much as possible.  Hence the less impact we make the more of a niche we will create for a eco-tourism that will vary from our neighbors to the north.  Though many of us complain about the Costa Maya Port we must also all thank this industry for providing us with a very steady supply of tourism throughout the year.  We should also be thankful to the National & International tourism that the highway brings us constantly thanks to the Chetumal & Cancun Airport.

CML: Well put. What is your favorite part about living in Mahahual? 

Evan: Definitely always looking at the Caribbean Sea and feeling a fresh clean breeze.

CML: Is this home? Are you planning on being here forever?

Evan: Forever and ever!

Stop by and see Evan and his family the next time you are in town at Nacional Beach Club!

Mexican Government Acts to Fight Sargassum in Costa Maya

seaweed2

At first it was “here comes sargassum season again. Break out the nose plugs. It will be over in a few weeks”, then “this is a long season but it has been like this since 2011, it will be over soon” and lately as the sargassum keeps rolling in at a furious pace it is more like “when is it going to end??”. This sargassum season is perhaps the worst on record, and the Mexican Federal, State and local governments have decided to act.

The sargassum that is choking out the local beaches is hurting tourism and marine ecology due to the shear scale, and has prompted officials to act. Rafael Pacchiano Alaman, the head of Semarnat, the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources, has declared that the federal government has preliminarily released $62 million pesos to study and deal with the issue in Quintana Roo.

Locals want the sargassum gone but are also concerned that methods of blocking and collection, both at sea and on shore, may have some undesirable consequences, such as netting marine species, digging up turtles nests, and carrying away beach sand. But Pacchiano Alamán indicated that the measures being put forward do not affect the marine fauna because there are very specific guidelines on how to contain sargassum.

Left alone, sargassum in these amounts can trap and kill baby sea turtles, baby dolphins and other species, such as has occurred this year in Barbados. In addition to that, the heavy amounts of rotting seaweed in enclosed bays such like we have here in Mahahual can reduce oxygen levels temporarily, stressing and killing corals, sea grass, fish, sponges and other marine life.

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The measures taken by the government are imperative as the caribbean is bracing for what could be the mother of all seaweed invasions, with satellite observations showing record setting blooms and beaches all over the caribbean drowning in rotting brown plants. The Barbados government declared a national emergency on 7 June.

Scientists are saying that the source of the sargassum since 2011 has been the tropical area off of the norther coast of Brasil, not the sargassum sea, as it was originally thought. Satellite imagery is showing that this year’s bloom is bigger than any that have been observed before, which explains the massive proliferation and extended season. See this article for a more detailed explanation.

2011.mean

2018.mean

Nobody really knows what is causing the massive blooms in recent years. Experts in many countries are at work studying the issue but say that it is all educated guessing at this point. The good news is that the government has decided to act in a timely and environmentally responsible way. Our beaches should be finally clearing out soon so that we can all enjoy!

Taxis in Revolt in Costa Maya!

If you’ve ever spent any time in any of the various Mahahual groups on facebook you are bound to have come across regular complaints against the taxis here, especially on cruise ship days.  Some of the more common complaints are that the taxis don’t stop for locals on ship days because they charge the tourists 4-8 times what they can charge locals, driving too fast and reckless in the neighborhoods, too many taxis in town, and running over pets of all kinds. They definitely don’t have the best reputation and when people have a complaint the taxi drivers flipantly reply “go register an official complaint” because they know nothing will come of it. They have a monopoly on taxi service in this state leaving the population with no other options…until recently.

A few weeks ago a law was passed opening up the doors for competition to other services like Uber or Lyft, putting the “sindicato” into upheaval and sparking massive celebrations in the facebook groups by locals. It seemed the day had finally come for the yellow bullies, but they haven’t taken it lying down.

A week later the taxi drivers organized one morning statewide, from Cancun to Chetumal, to block the streets and highways in various locations with big groups of taxis, letting nobody through for a few hours at a time. In Mahuahual they blocked the cafetal, the main road into town coming from 307 and Limones, for a few hours one afternoon. I heard that this ugly tactic was taken advantage of by a few opportunistic and putrid taxistas by offering rides from Limones to Mahahual to unsuspecting travelers and then charging the passengers extra to take them back to Limones once they encountered the block. Repugnant behavior that was the reason for the passing of the law in the first place.

Things have been relatively quiet the last few weeks until Monday, when the taxi drivers employed their favorite blocking tactic at the entrance to the port to protest the fact that cruise ship passengers get shuttled to and from the port by the Costa Maya trailers and not the taxis. An online report stated that the port manager came out to speak with them but left after a few minutes because they were throwing threats his way.

The taxistas were only able to block the port for a few minutes in the morning and the afternoon but the uproar couldn’t have left a good taste in the mouths of tourists or locals. If they are looking for support, they won’t find it with the same ugly behaviors that earned them their bad reputations in the first place.

If they want to survive they have to learn that in a free market the best wins. If they wan’t to survive they are going to have to improve their service and standing in the community and let the bullying go. The monopoly has ended and the clock is ticking for them to clean up their act. Running over animals, over-charging tourists and foreigners, driving too fast through neigborhoods, it all has to stop.

If you find yourself in Mahahual and you need a ride from a taxi know these two things:

  1. Not all taxi drivers are bad so don’t automatically think you are getting into the car with the enemy, but…
  2. If you are not Mexican, especially if you are coming out of the port, a normal ride should only cost 1-2 dollars (or 20-40 pesos at MOST). And that is not per person. Don’t let them extort you. Don’t pay it. Somebody else will be happy to give you a ride.

Either way, Costa Maya Mahahual is a great place and we continue our march towards changing for the better. The fall of the taxi sindicato monopoly is just one more step on the road!

Local Knowledge #3

rumor

Mahahual is  very small town. I don’t know how many of you grew up for spent any time in small towns but I have come to realize that they are very similar to one another in many ways, regardless of culture or language. I am from a tiny farm town in eastern North Carolina and I have been serendipitously reminded of my formative years more than once since moving here.

The local knowledge for this post applies to the Oxxo post and to most small towns that I know of. There are always lots of talk and rumors about things going on in town, most of them erroneous or innocently misinformed. If I had a chicken strip for every time my childhood friend Nick told me that Taco Bell and Bojangles were coming to our small town I would have a lot of chicken strips.

When you hear these rumors, you should know that you’ll never really know until the rumor becomes a reality! Don’t waste your time and hope speculating. Just wait….and see…