Citizen science: Paving the way in fisheries management and conservation in the Upper Gulf of California



Citizen science is a methodology based in the construction of collaborative relationships and of co-producing information between scientists and the users of one or various resources (for example tourists, divers, fishermen). In 2009, the Gulf of California Marine Program established the Citizen Science Program to guarantee fishermen participation in our research in the upper Gulf of California. It was not a small challenge, since there was a long history of tension and resentment between scientists and fishermen in the region, a result of a constant battle between two agendas (conservation of the vaquita marina and fishing activities), which seem to lack any compatibility. (

In the upper gulf, conservation and fishing seem to be incompatible.

The academic objective behind the Citizen Science Program has been clear from the very beginning: produce information to identify the dynamics and patters of fishing activities in the Upper Gulf. However, we had to understand the value that the community and fishermen saw in the information that would be produced. We have a partnership with the fishermen and their participation goes beyond just providing information. There has been a collective learning process; while we see a graph with data and variance patterns, they see the effects of natural events (hurricanes, flood pulse, fish runs), political events (increase in fishing permits, spacial restrictions on fishing), or economic events (market dynamics, fishing subsidies). The different perspectives add value to the research by allowing an open and collaborative discussion.

Our database is extensive and allows us to analyze the fishing dynamic on a regional and community level. The database includes spacial and temporal information (, fisheries data, biological data (, and economic information. Our results include the definition of fishing areas by species, the distribution of fishing activity, and its intensity within the Biosphere Reserve, as well as an ecological and biological description of the most important fisheries species in the region (

Fishermen participation was critical in order to reach research goals.


The economic value by fishing area and the vaquita marina sightings that have been registered in the region have been used to create a “photograph” of the interaction between a valuable species for the conservation sector, the vaquita marina, and the distribution of the economic potential that the upper gulf communities depend on. All of our results can be used as instruments to facilitate dialogue between the conservation sector, the management of fisheries resources, academia, and, of course, stakeholders.

Visualizing the economic potential of the fishing zones and sightings of vaquita marina help understand the cost that conservation efforts and fisheries management can have on communities’ economies.


In the upper Gulf of California the management strategies implemented, such as zoning of the reserve and refuge for the vaquita marina, have impacted fishing activities and, therefore, the economy of the communities. As a consequence, the conflict and tension between the different sectors has increased over the last 20 years. Programs like ours are achieving a valuation of natural fishing capital in the region, which will help us understand why it has been so difficult to implement conservation measures in the past.


Special Thanks

To the fishermen and their representatives of San Felipe, B.C., Golfo de Santa Clara, Sonora, and the Sociedad Cooperativa Pueblo Indígena Cucapá for their time, participation, and patience in the Citizen Science Program. Thank you to Yazmín, Josué, Jorge, Don Román and Anabel for all their support and excellent work. To the regional CONANP and CONAPESCA offices, and to the WWF-Gulf of California Program, EDF de México, the Walton Family Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for their support during our research development.




Catalina López Sagástegui 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.


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