Fishing in the Upper Gulf of California: A new paradigm for conservation



Recently I was invited to participate in a discussion panel during the 2nd Annual Latin American Fisheries Fellowship Workshop: Emerging Fisheries Research and Management Tools for Latin America held in La Paz, Baja California Sur and organized by the BREN School of Environmental Science & Management from UCSB ( The discussion was about vaquita marina conservation and fisheries management in the Upper Gulf of California, and my presentation focused on the research initiatives the Gulf of California Program is developing in the region.

 The Upper Gulf of California has its share of challenges when it comes to merging conservation and fisheries goals. With the vaquita marina (Phocoena sinus) facing extinction and other species being threatened (like the Totoaba, Totoaba macdonaldi), there is a sense of urgency to stop their declining trend.  So, how can we align conservation with fisheries management objectives so that we help improve local livelihoods?


Since 2009, the Gulf of California Program at Scripps, in collaboration with UCMEXUS-UCR and the Centro para la Biodiversidad Marina y la Conservación (CBMC), has established a collaborative research project where fishermen help generate spatial, biological, ecological and fisheries data that contributes to ongoing efforts aimed at understanding the UGC’s ecosystem, its dynamics and the role humans play as local inhabitants and resource users.  Together, this collaborative network is tackling the challenges of moving the region’s fisheries towards sustainable practices while bridging the strong feeling of disconnect between fisheries management and conservation initiatives.


Finding innovative ways of displaying information (i.e. maps, info-graphics) makes the interpretation of data much easier for everyone. As scientists, we count on fishermen and their knowledge to help us interpret and understand what the data is saying and showing. Fishermen know the region and its resources like no other, and their input has proven invaluable to our success as a research group. We have been able to understand the curvina fishery (Cynoscion othonopterus) in such detail that we know where the fish are just days before they spawn; and we are in the process of understanding where the shrimp fishery takes place and why.

Slide27There are many ways in which we can use all the information being generated, but our main objective is that this citizen science program helps push the fisheries management and conservation agendas forward by increasing the amount of data and level of understanding of the economic activities and social dynamics driving the region’s development. This information has benefitted efforts that are led by other NGOs, research groups and even fishermen themselves. We will continue our efforts in strengthening our citizen science program in order move towards a sustainable future in the region.





Catalina López Sagástegui

Catalina López Sagástegui

Catalina completed her undergraduate degree in Marine Biology from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur and received a Master’s degree in biodiversity and conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She is a Scholar in Residence at UC MEXUS and focuses on describing and analyzing current and past efforts involving the communities in the Upper Gulf of California, scientists form US and Mexican institutions, as well as government and non-government groups working together towards conserving the vaquita marina and managing regional fisheries. Particularly, she analyzes resource user participation in research and conservation/management initiatives, and how those initiatives impact local communities.


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