Friday, January 20, 2012

Long Lines and Gill nets

         We are now in a very difficult period in the fishing community on the West Coast of Mexico, and in fact all of Mexico. It may actually develop into a type of civil war, which will pit family members against family members.

         Among the sport fishing captains, there is a new awareness as to the need to conserve, because they now understand the resources are limited. But, not all fishermen in Mexico feel the same way: Or they are just taking the “I better get it now, before somebody else gets it” attitude?

While fly fishing with Clayton Chrisman at Vicente Gro., Cali and I
came across this sea turtle trapped in a gill net made for small sharks,
tuna, and dorado. (Note the larger sized mesh across the turtle’s back)
 A large cargo ship must have cut it up and set several tangled pieces
 afloat, because we found two nets and two turtles within an hour of
each other. We cut them both free, and got the nets back to a dumpster.
Gill nets and long lines are floating indiscriminate killers.
As John Dean once told me about how he and Captain Alfredo Vargas had come across an illegal simbra (long line); they moved in to start cutting the line to pieces, and then Alfredo recognized the panga which had laid the simbra. He told John “We can’t cut it, it is my cousin’s”. They actually had to leave the killing device and could not do anything about it.
          A simbra (long line) is a length of nylon chord, with a hook every 60 feet or so. It is very similar to the trot lines used by the good ol’ boys in the South. A 100 foot boat can lay out as much as 30 miles of long line for each set up. They generally work areas 100 or miles or more off shore. A panga long line generally runs about 3 to 4 miles, and fish the closer in areas.
         A long line is an indiscriminate killer. They kill anything which takes the baited hook, including birds, sea turtles, and billfish. Plus, the Mexican Government legally allows inshore long line permits for sharks, in areas which sharks do not exist in a large enough quantity to substantiate commercial interests. So, the main target is sailfish for these “legal” simbras. It does not matter the law states they are not allowed to sell billfish commercially, because it is not enforced. 
The late Luis Maciel and I released this turtle off another
long line. We were on the panga Gringo Loco.
Another man I had talked with had come to Zihuatanejo to fish, because he had given up on the area around Manzanillo. He tried to fish there for two days, but there were so many long lines, they could not get near any of the productive areas. They were even getting the long lines wrapped in the prop. Instead of cutting the line, the captain took care, and carefully unwound it. He said it was his brother-in-law’s.

Jose Pino on the Angela with some of
the approximate ½ mile of long
line we “stole”. Note the live baits
 rigged to the long line.
A long line run off a panga averages between 20 and 30 sailfish a day. All of those fish are dead before they are even put in the boat. And, there are several hundred pangeros with long lines on the West Coast of Mexico. We do not need to be rocket scientists to understand the conclusions of this math problem.

          On another more recent occasion, fly fishing client James Bunch of Alaska and I were fishing with Jose Pino on the Angela out of Puerto Vicente Guerrero. When we finally hit the blue water at 16 miles, there was a long line (simbra) in front of us. Jose was livid. Someone had come into his back yard, with an illegal operation, and was killing our fish. He wanted to cut it.
    I explained to James, even though the simbra is illegal, the owner makes his living with it. If we damage his personal property, it can get very dangerous. James gave us the go ahead. I was really impressed with that. Having come here all the way from Alaska, he was sacrificing a possible shot at a sailfish on the fly, and putting conservation first. 

The simbra must have been at least 4 miles long, because there was not a boat in site. I took a position standing on the rail and bench seat with my binoculars, and Jose, not satisfied to just cut it, started bringing the long line into the boat. As Jose brought the line in, every 60 feet had a long monofilament leader, a large hook, and a live bait still swimming and kicking, so we knew the owner had been there only an hour or so earlier. The intermediate floats were made from empty 1 liter chlorine bleach bottles, with a white end buoy. The end buoy had a small anchor down about 6 feet to help stabilize the long line’s drift. We also came across two locations which were all twisted and wrapped up. Jose explained it was from sailfish which had hooked themselves, but by repeated leaps had gotten loose.

 As it turns out, we got lucky and had found the long line near the very beginning. With the boat in reverse, and Jose pulling like a man possessed, in about a half hour he had about ½ mile in the boat, and the final end buoy. Jose put the boat in gear and we took off in the opposite direction of the long line’s owner, who we knew must by now be finishing his baiting and laying out, and would soon be heading back.

I am sure he never saw us, and I really would have liked to have seen the expression on his face when he came across the line where we cut it.
    Taking ½ mile of a 4 mile long line, will not damage the illegal fisherman too much, but if it happened every time he went out, he would soon get the message. Until the fishing captains in Mexico get the same attitude as Jose, the panga long line problem is going to remain. This unifying attitude has yet to happen, but hopefully it will in a few years in the future, and hopefully not too late.   
Like Mexico, Costa Rica, and Guatemala are very dependent on tourism. They understand the importance of the visiting fishermen and the money they spend.  They have enacted strict laws and enforcement, using only circle hooks and the releasing of billfish. Plus, the migratory species being killed in Mexican waters are not just Mexico’s – they belong to all of the Latin American countries along the migration route. Hopefully, the Mexican government will wake up to reality, before being reprimanded by their Central American neighbors.

Ed Kunze - IGFA Representative


  1. Great article. The long lines are stealing the future of the children.

  2. Thanks for the insight into what appears to be a declining fishery. I started fishing in the Los Cabos region in 1986 when it resembled a small town, but became disenchanted with what it had become. For several years I fished out of Barra de Navidad with mixed results. At that time it was apparent there was heavy longline presence in the area. For the past 10 years I have been fishing out of Zihuatanejo and have noticed a steady decline to the point of reluctantly considering a possible return to Los Cabos; at least for fishing. It seems like only recently that I began hearing about longlines, and while fishing this past December even the captain I fish with reluctantly agreed that the fishing has declined. Your article seems to confirm my suspicion. With the slow economy and negative implications of violence the last thing the area needs is reduced tourism because of a decline in the fishing!