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Fisheries Ecology
Written by Dra. Norma Y. Hernández Saavedra   


Fisheries Ecology

Coordinator: Dra.Hernández Saavedra Norma Yolanda

Importance of the geographical location of CIBNOR within the context of national fisheries

B.C.S. Map

CIBNOR is located in La Paz, Baja California Sur in the northwestern part of Mexico. This part of the Mexican Pacific is the most important fishing area in the country. This area contributed between 59 and 63% to the total fisheries production from 1998 to 2000. A great part of this production comes from the Gulf of California considered as one of the most productive ocean areas in the world. Besides, the region has an upwelling corridor of marine ecosystems along the western coast of the Baja California peninsula. These marine ecosystems, comparable to those that support the fishing production in countries such as, the United States, Japan, Chile, Peru, and South Africa should have allowed the country to reach a more advanced level in this economic activity.

Mexico within the context of global fisheries – National and local relevance

Boat fishing

Mexico is among the first 20 countries in fisheries production with 1.4 million metric tons a year that represent 1.5% of the world catch. The fisheries sector contributes around 0.7% to gross domestic product (GPD), and employs around 1.3% of working population. If at national level these numbers could be interpreted as indicatives of a minor economic activity, it would be evident to consider it as regional (almost two-thirds of the production comes from four states: Sonora, Sinaloa, Baja California, and Baja California Sur.

Perspectives and current fisheries situation in Mexico

A great deal of national catch is based on a few massive fishery resources: small (sardines, mackerels, etc.) and large (tuna) pelagic fish, squid, and shrimp. Apart from shrimp, massive fisheries still have growth potential. Furthermore, research at CIBNOR has identified proven reserves of unexploited resources capable of increasing national catch significantly. For example, conservative calculations indicate that it is possible to obtain 40,000 to 100,000 tons a year of red pelagic crab in the western coast of Baja California Sur, and the same can be expected with hake and Lumptail searobin. Just based on these three potential resources, national catch could increase 15%. Other potential resources in the western coast are: deep-water crabs, small pelagic fish, squid, macroalgae, and so on, whose potential catch volume could be estimated at hundreds or thousands of metrical tons.

Fisheries in Mexico have a wide economic growth margin that derives from their backward state. Except for a few cases (e.g. abalone, lobster, and shrimp), fishery resources do not have a process that allows value-added products and high-price marketing as other countries have with similar species. Possible fishery value-added products (extraction of oil, amino-acids, etc.) of traditional species could reduce fishing effort and thus, mitigating negative impact in marine biodiversity.

Fishing vessel

Approach and conceptual framework of CIBNOR Fisheries Ecology Program 

The mission of the program is to carry out basic and applied research to contribute to the development of national fisheries based on sustainability and the creation of wealth to promote conservation of marine biodiversity with a minimal effect on marine ecosystems in Mexico. To achieve this goal, the program incorporates new methodological approaches in fisheries research and makes rational and efficient use of fishery resources searching for value-added products from each resource. In order to achieve this goal, the Program takes into account the following conceptual framework in relation to the definition of sustainable fisheries:

Sustainable fishing chart

Ecosystem approach

Exploitation of fishery resources should be considered based on a marine ecosystem approach. In other words, the fishing objective (shrimp, tuna, and so on) should be considered as an element within the ecosystem and not in isolation. This ecosystem approach contrasts with a mono-specific approach of a few years back (up until the 1980s) when only commercial catch impact was valued or measured within populations subject to exploitation not taking into account other elements of the marine ecosystem (other subspecies, interaction among populations, interaction with other fisheries, and so on).

Shrimp capture

Fishing impact in marine ecosystems: identification, assessment, mitigation

The Program directs efforts toward measuring the impact or effect of fishery activity on the main marine ecosystems of Northwest Mexico with special emphasis on the Gulf of California: impacts of trawl fishing (shrimp) on benthos marine biodiversity; measuring impact of small pelagic fishing on sea bird populations around the large islands of the Gulf of California; estimating impact on the pelagic ecosystem by fishing important species like squid, and so on.

Affected and non-affected sea bottoms

Potential fishery resources

The west coast of the Baja California peninsula has the last redoubt of available biomass for new fisheries at national level. With a long term vision and with a strategy to incorporate value added products, 500,000 metric tons of biomass a year could be extracted in a sustainable way.  Potential development of new fisheries (red pelagic crab, small pelagic fish, hake, algae, and so on) would reduce drastically the fishing effort aimed at traditional lobster and abalone fisheries.

Industrial and value-added processes

One of the strategies to follow in traditional Mexican fisheries, those which are normally found at their peak in catch or those which show a clear decrease tendency in catch, is to increase their economic value through value-added products such as, special oil extraction, commercially important amino-acids, compounds like omega 3, and so forth. These possible value-added products directed toward traditional and non-traditional fisheries will be one of the strategies that the Program will follow to have an impact on national fisheries industry. Optimization of industrial processes, improvement in catch systems, ecological costs, and so on will also be incorporated in this program.

Vulnerability in marine ecosystems: natural variability and global warming

Natural ocean climate variability and global warming undoubtedly affect marine coastal ecosystems in the northwestern region of the country. Temperature chart at global levelThe Program incorporates these approaches in the concept of sustainable fishing due to the vulnerability that marine and coastal ecosystems show as a consequence of global warming and natural climate variability (ENSO, “La Niña”, mid-latitude warming and so on).

Evidently, the coastal zone of Mexico is and will be affected by mean sea level increase, rain pattern changes, frequency increase of extreme events in the Pacific, geographical redistribution of fishery resources, and so forth. These are some examples of possible climate variability and global warming impact. Therefore, the Program contemplates to carry out research in these fields of science.

Recovery and fisheries regulation in Northwest Mexico

The growing demand of fishery products to cover basic food needs represents an important challenge at world level.  Internationally, there is a widely well-known need to search for new resources, to regulate exploitation of those that are in development stages, and to reverse deterioration of those that are considered over exploited or threatened as well as the ecosystems they belong to. In spite of this, a great part of the populations of fishery resources are still in advanced stages of exploitation, and others confront degradation of their habitats, particularly interior bodies of water. Over exploitation trends accelerate with the development of new capture and detection technologies that continue improving fleet capacity to increase production.

According to international guidance in this matter, fisheries administration should acknowledge that inadequate or excessive exploitation of the resources shall have negative consequences in the future. It has been pointed out that reduction of populations subject to exploitations at harmful biological or ecological level shall result in loss of potential benefits such as food, consumables, and employment in short and long term. Some specialists consider that the resources taken to these levels shall have impacts in other populations that depend on them in a way that the effects could extend further than the target species. Based on this situation, it has been proposed that including an important decrease in fisheries, effort might not have immediate effects on population recovery or on the associated ecosystems, and in some cases loss might not last for indefinite time and could be even permanent.


Four fundamental aspects have been identified in the Program: sustainability of the fisheries sector in the framework of responsible fishing (FAO), optimization needs along the production chain, growth possibilities according to existing potential and over exploited resources, and mitigation of negative fishing effects on damaged fishery resources and marine ecosystems. The corresponding objectives are expressed in the following terms:

  • Contribute to sustainable fishing in Mexico.

  • Develop new approaches in fisheries research that allow evaluating the impact of fisheries on marine ecosystems.

  • Contribute to fisheries regulations through proper measures based on the most credible scientific data available and made to maintain or restore populations to maximum sustainable yield production according to appropriate environmental and economic factors.
  • Contribute to new sustainable fisheries development in Northwest Mexico.

  • Develop research that will allow value increase of fishery products of Mexico.

  • Establish a diagnosis of fisheries potential in the area.

Last Updated on Monday, 07 September 2015 12:29
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