Assessment of Ecological Conditions in the Gulf of California and the Promotion of Sustainable Fisheries

and Business Opportunities for Local Residents in the Region of Santa Rosalía, México


Overview MULEGé sustainable fisheries project

EcoWB is assisting the fishing communities in the Municipality of Mulegé, México, focusing on people whose livelihoods depend on Gulf of California fisheries. Our goal is to improve the physical and economic well-being of small-scale fishers and their families, while at the same time ensuring the long-term health of the Gulf and the biota it supports.


    The Municipality of Mulegé of Mexico is located midway down the Baja California peninsula and is bounded by the Gulf of California on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west. The Gulf is a famously productive and diverse marine ecosystem owing its complex bathymetry and periodic interchange of cold and warm Pacific Ocean waters. Local currents, water temperatures, and primary productivity in the Gulf are strongly influenced by weather patterns, including “El Norte” winds that blow for long periods in late fall and winter, and the recurring El Niño Southern Oscillation, or “ENSO”, which causes atmospheric and oceanographic conditions to fluctuate across much of the Pacific Ocean.

    The Gulf of California’s diverse fish community supports, in turn, a robust small-scale fishery. The 500 or so fishermen who fish in the Gulf’s “Mulegé Corridor” mainly use hand lines and nets to catch finfish, diving, and pots to catch octopus, and nets to catch sharks and rays. For several years prior to the major El Nino event of 2009-2010, the local fishery primarily targeted giant squid. Warmer surface water temperatures have prevailed since then, leading to a collapse of the squid fishery and a shift in the relative importance and value of other fish species to local fishermen.

    Small-scale fisheries in the Gulf of California are managed through a limited entry permit system. In México, fishing cooperatives were established by law in 1935 to enable fishermen to pool resources and more easily access fishing permits and government subsidies. In 1992, as an economic stimulus measure, private entities were allowed to apply for fishing permits. Today, approximately half of the Mulegé fishermen belong to ~20 fishing cooperatives; the remainder either fish independently as “pescadores libres”, or work for ~20 local “permisionarios” – private permit holders who supply fishing equipment (boats, motors, nets, etc.) and advance funding to cover trip costs. Fishing permit holders are required to report their catches to the Mexican government. A significant, yet unknown, number of fishermen fish illegally; their catch goes unreported.

    There is a dearth of reliable, up-to-date information on the population status, composition, and biomass of fish species caught by Mulegé fishermen. Information is also lacking on the types of fishing gear used, locations fished, and effort expended fishing for different species. These unknowns hinder the design and implementation of effective management measures, which fishermen rightfully view as being critical to the long-term viability of the Mulegé fishery.



    With this in mind, EcoWB implemented the Mulegé Sustainable Fishery Project in 2014 to obtain the requisite information and promote the interests of local fishermen. After talking with fishermen and reviewing available data, we decided to focus on yellowtail amberjack (“jurel”), and several commonly caught finfish species colloquially referred to as snappers (“pargos”) and groupers (“cabrillas”). To identify data gaps and potential barriers to achieving sustainable fisheries, we interviewed fishermen, community leaders, local researchers, and agency representatives, conducted an extensive literature review, and began sampling the catches of fishermen returning to Mulegé ports. Armed with this information, we completed an in-depth Pre-Assessment in 2019 of the yellowtail, snapper, and grouper small-scale fishery in the Mulegé Corridor. The Pre-Assessment process followed protocols and referenced standards established for small-scale fisheries by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Although many components of the Mulegé fishery appear to be sustainable, the fishery as a whole does not meet MSC standards.

    Based on the findings of the PA and positive feedback received from fishermen and other stakeholders, EcoWB obtained project funding and formally initiated a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) for the Mulegé yellowtail, snapper, and grouper fishery. The FIP is envisioned as a 5-year process during which stakeholders, assisted by EcoWB fisheries scientists, take concrete steps to reform the existing fishery, improve supply chain efficiency and market value, and increase levels of sustainability to the point that the fishery can be considered a candidate for MSC certification.

    To empower local fishermen, EcoWB formed a special task force – the Alliance of Responsible Fishers of Mulegé – to discuss issues, make recommendations, and serve as a conduit for exchanging information with the fishing community. EcoWB is partnering with Fundación Hagamos Más por Santa Rosalia (HMSR) and the Instituto Tecnológico Superior de Mulegé (ITESME) to educate and catalyze enterprise initiatives at the community level.

    We are currently working with the Alliance to develop a FIP work plan and map the Mulegé fisheries supply chain so that we can prioritize and begin implementing sustainable fishing measures. Mulegé fishermen appear to be willing to modify their behaviors and make sacrifices with the expectation that the fishery will be certified as well-managed and sustainable, and that they will benefit accordingly. To the extent that they continue to welcome our assistance, EcoWB will support them.

    IMpact of the 2020 covid-19 pandemic

    Unfortunately, progress on the Mulegé FIP has been interrupted by the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. As of this writing (June, 2020), the pandemic is still underway. Although infection rates among fishermen and their families do not appear to disproportionally high, the economic consequences have been devastating. The demand for fish and the price paid by buyers has decreased due to restaurant closures, travel restrictions, and disruptions to the supply chain. Based on fishing boat activity in the Mulegé ports, we estimate that fewer than half of the small-scale fishing fleet is operative. In an effort to ease the economic impact of the pandemic, EcoWB has teamed with HMSR to raise funds to purchase and distribute food to needy families. We continue to sample catches, analyze data, and work on a sustainable fisheries work plan that can be implemented as soon as fishing picks up again; hopefully, this summer. If you are interested in contributing to the Mulege Fisherman Relief Fund, please contact the MSFP Project Manager, Bernardo Sánchez, at (



    • Mineria y Metalurgica El Boleo, S.A.P.I. de C.V.
    • Resources Legacy Fund
    • Private donors


    • Fishermen, cooperatives, and private permit holders that participate in the Mulegé yellowtail, snapper, and grouper small scale fisheries
    • Alliance of Responsible Fishers of Mulegé (ARFM)
    • Dirección de Pesca, Acuacultura y Desarrollo Agropecuario del Municipio de Mulegé (DIPESAGA)
    • Fundación Hagamos Más por Santa Rosalia (HMSR)
    • Instituto Tecnológico Superior de Mulegé (ITESME)


    Project Team

    • Cleve Steward – EcoWB Project Director
    • Bernardo Sánchez – EcoWB Project Manager
    • Eric Knudsen – EcoWB Lead Scientist
    • Pablo Zambrano – ITESME Professor
    • Karmina Arroyo – ITESME Professor
    • Alma Colorado – HMSR Director
    • Conrado Lopez – HMSR and EcoWB administrative assistant

    EcoWB volunteers

    • James Cash
    • Tim Frawley
    • Clayton Hawkes
    • Elodie Jacquemin
    • Pat Livingston
    • Dan Madigan
    • Andrea Ramirez
    • Mark Soboil

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