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Shark fishing in Mexico

Shark fishing remains an important source of income and employment for many fishing communities in Mexico and a significant contributor to the country's economy. Mexico is one of the top 10 shark-fishing nations worldwide, and as many shark species face extinction nowadays, it is crucial to put in place adequate conservation measures to protect them.

The history of shark fishing in Mexico dates back to the pre-Columbian era, when ancient civilizations like the Aztecs and Maya fished for sharks along the coast. These early fishermen would use traditional fishing methods such as hand lines and spears to catch sharks, which were then used for both food and ceremonial purposes.

In the early 20th century, shark fishing in Mexico began to evolve with the introduction of modern fishing equipment and techniques. Commercial shark fishing has increased dramatically in the last century, with the development of new fishing technologies and the global demand for shark products such as shark fin, meat, and liver oil.

According to the CONAPESCA Fisheries Statistical Yearbook, in terms of catch, the shark fishery in Mexico is one of the biggest worldwide. Mexico is one of the top 10 shark-fishing nations, ranking 6th in terms of the total catch of sharks. In the last decade, Mexico has reported a catch of around 20,000 to 40,000 tons of sharks per year. In Mexico, catches are reported into two categories: tiburón for adults from large species (animals that are more than 1.5 meters in length) and cazón for young sharks from large species and adults from small species (1.5 meters and less). The name cazón is also often used as a label for shark meat in supermarkets and restaurants and Mexican consumers may therefore not be aware that they are eating shark at all.

Tonnage of Tiburon and Cazon production, source: CONAPESCA

Historically, commercial shark fishing in Mexico primarily targets the shortfin mako shark, the blue shark, the hammerhead sharks, the tiger shark, the bull shark, and the silky shark. These species are targeted for their meat, fins, and oil, and are caught using pelagic longlines and gillnets, which can capture large numbers of sharks at once. Over time, the industry has changed. Some species that were once common haven’t been seen for years. Fishermen are still bringing home the same quantity of shark meat, possibly because Mexico has a diverse shark population with a huge number of species.

As the concerns about the sustainability of shark fishing began to rise and many species of shark were found to be in decline due to overfishing, some regulations were put in place to protect them. Several species of shark are protected by Mexican law and may not be fished at all, these include whale shark, white shark and basking sharks. These sharks are protected mainly because of their great touristic value.

The seasonal prohibition of shark fishing was also established by Mexican government to protect sharks during their reproductive seasons. Sharks are prohibited from being fished in Mexican waters:

  • 1st May - 31st July: in the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California, i.e. in Baja California, Baja Californa Sur, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michaocán, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas

  • 1st May - 30th June: in Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Quintana Roo

  • 15th May - 15th June and 1st - 29th August: Tabasco, Yucatán and Campeche.

As a contracting party of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), Mexico also made a commitment to regulate international trade in the CITES-listed species. Here you can find out which are these species and how CITES works.

However, shark populations continue to decline due to a variety of threats, including overfishing, bycatch, and habitat destruction. Additionally, the fin trade, which drives the demand for shark fins, remains a major problem. Lack of inspection and enforcement also reduces the laws’ efficacy. There is still much work to be done to ensure the survival of these animals. The protection and management of shark populations, increasing awareness and well-informed communication between the fishing communities and shark-product consumers must be a priority to ensure the health of marine ecosystems.

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