Meet the fishermen of the Upper Gulf of California
These are the stories of the pioneering fishermen of San Felipe who are making personal sacrifices to ensure that they can save the vaquita and sustain their livelihoods. Read the full interviews
Jesús Carlos “Charlie” Samudio Martínez
I Believe in Change
Carlos Samudio, or Charlie, is the president of a local fishing cooperative and the father of two young fishermen. He is concerned about the future of fishing and whether it will be available to support the next generation. Charlie is an amiable man who works hard to unify the fishing community.
“I want the world to know that people here have interest in protecting vaquitas, sea turtles, and totoaba. There are Mexicans who are interested in caring for these animals.”
José Luis “Chalunga” Romero González
José Luis Romero is 55 years old and was born in San Felipe, Mexico. He is a board member of Pesca ABC, an organization founded by fishermen to promote fisheries conservation, and has been fishing for more than 40 years. He is one of the most experienced and successful fishermen at using the “vaquita-friendly” lightweight shrimping trawl, and he has taught many fishermen how to use this alternative, non-entangling gear. Chalunga supports the efforts of the non-governmental organizations that are working to save the vaquita and encourages more action and cooperation among Mexican federal agencies. He believes that “the vaquita has the right to live, as well.”
“Sharing knowledge is important. I have collaborated with other conservation organizations many times to learn more. Working together we get good results.”
Antonio “Tonicho” García Orozco
A fisherman and a fishing net craftsman, Tonicho started fishing in 1983 and worked his way up to captaining his own boat. Today he is a natural leader in the local fishing community and is one of the two local experts who design and manufacture the small, lightweight shrimp trawl gear. He has built dozens of alternative types of fishing gear, trained more than a hundred fishermen, and often participates in international fisheries workshops. Tonicho is also on the board of Pesca ABC, an organization founded by fishermen to promote fisheries conservation.
“We want to continue moving forward with the alternative fishing practices. Everything is good if we are fishing sustainably, which means, for me, respecting the rules, and it means ensuring that our product is premium quality, while taking good care of the environment by using this alternative fishing gear.”
Rafael “Gordis” Sánchez Gastélum
Respect for the Ocean
Rafael Sánchez, or Gordis, is a 33-year-old fisherman who has also served as a fisheries observer. He often takes Americans out on sportfishing trips, where he shares his enthusiasm for the marine environment. He demonstrates strong perseverance, as seen by his positive attitude after his house burned down in 2015. Gordis has seen vaquitas several times, and each time he feels humbled by their presence. He respects the concept of fishing sustainably and passes these values down to his children. Gordis is committed to using environmentally responsible fishing gear, even in the unfortunate event of the vaquita’s extinction.
“I support traps and lightweight trawls. I would like the public to know that we are fishing with gear that is not harming the vaquita.”
Armando “Muelas” Castro Soto
Armando Castro, or Muelas, is a 38-year-old fisherman from La Reforma, Sinaloa, where small fishing boats called pangas are built. Muelas brings youthful energy and extensive knowledge about modern technologiesto the fishing community. He is concerned about the effects that illegal fishing will have on his business and family. He believes in fishing less and targeting a more diverse portfolio of species year round. Muelas was a fisheries observer for the testing of the alternative fishing gear and participated in the vaquita acoustic monitoring research program.
“People should support us in opening the fishery again [for alternative gear only] so we can work and fish. There are a lot of people doing illegal things, it is true. But that affects the other 80 percent of us that are suffering from the closure. They should look at the volume of the families that are suffering because of this, not just the bad things a few of them are doing.”
Javier “Chino” Valverde Márquez
Life is a blessing
Javier Valverde, or Chino, has been fishing for more than 55 years. He is a spiritual man, confident that God has saved him many times on the ocean. His active and energized lifestyle is an inspiration to the other fishermen. He is very aware of the health of the natural environment and is often seen picking up trash and making efforts to collect plastic, which can be harmful to animals living in the ocean.
“I hope that the public looks at our association’s [Islas del Golfo Cooperative] plan to get funds to protect the animals, clean the beaches and the boardwalk, to go to the islands to collect plastic bags and other trash to preserve the environment. That is the nicest thing that we could pass onto our kids—to come see the ocean and the whales.”