There is a thriving commercial fishing industry in Mexican waters off the Pacific coast and in the Sea of Cortez, albeit on a much smaller scale than the large factory ships hailing from Japan or the US. The omnipresent Mexican “panga” or typical open deck fiberglass fishing vessel is plentiful at every harbor, near the shore or even out far at sea bobbing in the swell. The ability of these small vessels to catch and retrieve quite large fish is quite amazing, including up to two hundred pound tuna, marlin, swordfish, dorado (mahi mani), and shark. During the standard Sunday market on the seaside boardwalk (“malecon”) in La Cruz, there is a steady traffic of pangas docking by the beach, off loading their catch, and carting it up the dock for awaiting fish mongers to clean, process, andprovide attractive presentation on ice for sale to the tourists. In addition to the usual offerings of shrimp, lobster, red snapper, marlin, and tuna sold in the local market, there are occasional shark fins routed to the back of the market into pickups for destination to downtown Puerto Vallarta. These are destined for eventual shipment and consumption in the Far East, to feed the growing demand for shark fin soup. As the multi-hook long lines are retrieved into the pangas, most often the shark’s dorsal fin is cut off, and the shark is returned to the sea to aimlessly sink downward, unable to navigate without its dorsal fin. Occasional there are sharks brough back to to the market for consumption but there is low market demand for shark meat. This “definning” may perhaps seems like a cruel practice, but most of these Mexican panga fishermen are struggling to make a living on the sea and shark fins provide an economic lifeline for them to continue feeding their families. Eventually, however, the Mexican government will need to legislate conservation policies that correct this unsustainable fishing practice of harvesting millions of sharks annually, but still enable Mexican seafaring families to survive economically.
The panga fishing fleet of La Cruz, Mexico comprised of the standard less than 20' open fiberglass boat powered by an outboard motor, enabling long line, trolling, or net setting techniques near shore or many miles out to sea. Most of these boats are owned by individual families dependent on the income from the sea for survival.
In addition to the obvious large tuna that is awaiting transportation to the Puerto Vallarta downtown sushi market, there are several shark fins on the top of the heap. These will be processed, dried, and stored in 50 gallon drums for shipment to China, feeding the continued high demand for "medicinal good health providing" shark fin soup. Hundreds of millions of sharks are being harvested annually worldwide and surely, there will be impactful ecological consequences as the shark numbers become more and more depleted.
In addition to the long lines reaching for hundreds of yards with hundreds of hooks baited for shark or large pelagic species fish, the pangas will set out nylon nets, as shown in this boat. The one common nightmare feared by every yacht captain in a night passage, is to intersect with one of this often unmarked/unlit nets on a night passage leading to crippling entanglement in the prop.
The end of the line for these red snappers, waiting for the local consumer's selection. Compared to the boutique fish markets in San Diego the prices are incredibly reasonable. Annabelle and I picked out a very nice two pound snapper to bake on the boat - total cost was about $4.00. At Matzalan El Cid marina, we purchased two freshly caught tuna fillets that provided at least five meals for us - total cost was $10.00. I'm afraid my mercury levels after a year in Mexico would be off the charts, because I would enjoy excellent, very cheap seafood daily.