It was once a small, quiet fishing destination at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja peninsula, but a recently released socio-economic study that reports the enormous effect sport fishing tourism brings to the area — over a billion dollars a year – is reverberating through the country and beyond.
The comprehensive research study commissioned by The Billfish Foundation (TBF) focused on Baja Sur’s “sport fishing triangle” which includes the Los Cabos communities of East Cape, San Jose del Cabo, and Cabo San Lucas.
The area in recent years has become a major North American tourist destination driven heavily by its world-class striped marlin fishery and a major provider of jobs and new dollars to Mexico’s economy.
The 126 page study was conducted in 2007 and 2008 to estimate the dollars, jobs and tax revenues created by anglers in the region. It was produced by Southwick Associates, Inc. of Fernandina Beach, Fla., Nelson Resources Consulting, Inc. of Oakland Park, Fla. and Firmus Consulting of Mexico City, Mexico.
TBF, which works with governments worldwide advancing the conservation of billfish and associated species to improve the health of oceans and regional economies, has been assisting in the Baja Sur region since 2002. Dr. Russell Nelson, TBF’s chief scientist along with Guillermo Alvarez, TBF’s Mexican conservation director said information was needed to communicate the importance of Los Cabos fisheries to its local, state and national leaders.
Nelson said a series of surveys were conducted of visitors, both anglers and non-anglers, to gain an understanding of the number of people who fish in Los Cabos and the dollars spent. Additional surveys were conducted of various business sectors to develop the information needed to construct a model of the region’s sport fishing economy. Dozens of interviews followed with business, sport fishing, political and tourism leaders to learn about the nuances of the regional economy and how it provides for visitors.
Over 24,000 jobs created, over one billion in economic activity
The study showed in 2007, 354,013 people, most all of them international visitors, fished in Los Cabos. While there they spent an estimated $633.6 million dollars for lodging, charter boats, food, transportation, tackle, fuel, and more. These expenditures started a series of cascading economic effects in the local economy, creating:
- 24,426 jobs,
- $ 245.5 U.S. million in local and federal tax revenues, and
- $ 1.125 U.S. billion in total economic activity.
“A good way to view these impacts is to consider that, if everybody who fished in Los Cabos had not visited in 2007, the regional economy would have been $1.125 billion smaller,” said Rob Southwick, lead economist in the research effort. “That means there would have been 24,426 fewer jobs, and government coffers would have been poorer by $245.5 million.
“Visitors who fish there provide an estimated 24.1 percent of the total Los Cabos economy. A job is supported for every $18,156 in retail sales. Every dollar spent by anglers generated $1.78 in economic activity in the region and every visiting angler generated $721.99 in local and federal tax revenues.”
Additional benefits accrued were Los Cabos angler expenditures generating an added $145 U.S. million to Mexico’s Gross Domestic Product; 10,469 additional jobs created elsewhere in Mexico and $75 U.S. million in taxes added to the federal coffers.
Dorado, marlin are desired species by anglers — and commercial pirates as well
The report revealed the most targeted species of interest for sport fishermen were dorado (also known as dolphinfish and mahi-mahi) registering nearly 95% with a success catch rate of over 81%. Marlin were second at nearly 90% with a success rate of over 82% and tuna were the third most popular at over 86% with a 75% success rate among the 10 species listed.
Ironically the dorado, a species that under Mexican fisheries law is supposed to be strictly relegated for sport fishing, has for years attracted the interests of illegal commercial long-lining and netting in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) waters. A controversial new regulation NOM-029 allows for the “incidental” harvest of billfish, dorado and other species within Mexico’s 24 year-old conservation zones. Recent seizures of illegal dorado catches in the tons has also produced headlines in Mexican newspapers and attention to the commercial “fishing mafia.”
“This destructively affects fishing resources and the millions in tourist dollars that also support sport fishing such as catch-and-release for striped marlin in the region,” said Nelson.
Over 2,000 people were surveyed including anglers who fished Los Cabos, U.S. anglers who had never fished the area and Los Cabos businesses, providing a first-time look at the ideas and attitudes of those visiting the area and its potential untapped market.
Nelson said 88 percent of international anglers who have fished in Cabo said they would be less likely to return if they knew the commercial harvest of billfish increased.
“Nearly 80% said they would be more likely to return to fish if catch-and-release fishing was required for billfish, while nearly 83% of the anglers who targeted marlin on their trip to Los Cabos were successful in catching at least one of the marlin species available. Only 63% of these angling visitors said that they would choose to return to Los Cabos for another fishing trip.
“We believe this reflects the high demand placed on quality of the fishing experiences and the highly competitive nature of the international sport fishing tourism market.”
Currently, anglers are reporting a slightly lower rate of satisfaction with their visits to Los Cabos compared to general hotel and timeshare guests.
“If Mexico desires to maintain or maximize the wealth provided by sport fishing tourism, intelligent decisions regarding conservation-based fisheries management will be necessary,” said Alvarez.
“Communicating these policies and the quality of the region’s fisheries to U.S. anglers is critical to continued or increased sport fishing tourism activity. This report provides some of the information needed to make such informed decisions in developing fisheries policy for Mexico’s future.”
TBF President Ellen Peel said the report has been distributed to industry, state and federal government and academic interests in Mexico. Presentations on the results before the national Chamber of Commerce in Mexico City are anticipated in October.
“This is the information we have been asked for by the government over and over,” said Minera Saenz owner of Minerva’a Baja Tackle, and a sport fishing conservation activist. “Now TBF has given us the answers we need to increase support for conservation and sport fishing tourism.”
The complete report in English and Spanish with all survey results is available online at the TBF web site: www.billfish.org