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Gulf of California Shrimp Fisheries

Case Authors

Cristina Villanueva Aznar, Duke University, and Heather Leslie and Leila Sievanen, Brown University


The Gulf of California is located in northwestern Mexico, between the Baja California peninsula and mainland Mexico. Considered one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world, the Gulf of California is Mexico’s most productive fishing region.

Globally, Mexico is a significant shrimp producer, and the shrimp fishery is one of the most important economic activities in the Mexican Pacific, ranking first in economic benefits that result from high shrimp prices in the international marketplace and high levels of employment (i.e., 30,000-40,000 people, directly and indirectly).

Increasing shrimp fishing activities in the Gulf of California have driven some stocks beyond optimal exploitation levels, and low selectivity of shrimp fishing gears and the physical damage they cause to the sea floor are negatively impacting the ecosystem.

The Gulf of California shrimp fisheries EBM project aims to create the first ecosystem-based management scenarios for industrial and artisanal shrimp fisheries in the Gulf of California, pilot test and assess their outcomes in two of the main regional fishing areas. It is also aimed that, based on added values of alternative management schemes, strategies at ecoregional scale would be designed, recommended and accepted for implementation by the Mexican government.

So far, the project has focused on negotiating the effective data access and sharing between project members and governmental agencies, required for developing the desired alternative management scenarios.

As of today, the governmental fisheries management agency has not explicitly, nor implicitly, implemented EBM-related strategies. Although added values of EBM approaches are argued by conservationists and academics, the pilot implementation and empiric demonstration of positive outcomes is mandatory if the Mexican governmental management agency is to embrace them.

MEBM Attributes

  • Collaboration: The project seeks the use of the best available science and stakeholder engagement to mitigate ecosystem impacts of shrimp fisheries and create management policies that promote sustainable harvesting practices.
  • Scale: This project emphasizes an ecosystem-level perspective of shrimp fishery management, taking into account biological, ecological, and socioeconomic factors that influence the fishery.
  • Integration/Balance:  Aiming to transit from the tradition exploitation approach (“maximum sustainable yield”) to a better alternative (“maximum economic yield”); this project aims to integrate governmental management agencies, scientists and politicians in order to promote sustainable shrimp fisheries.


Mission and Primary Objectives


The Gulf of California shrimp fisheries EBM initiative is a regional collaboration focused on using the best available science and stakeholder engagement to understand ecosystem dynamics that influence and are influenced by shrimp fisheries in the gulf to create management policies that promote sustainable harvesting practices.

The overarching goals of this collaborative effort are:

  • To transition the Mexican fisheries from maximum sustainable yield to maximum economic yield.
  • To both provide benefits to biodiversity through bycatch reductions and lessen social conflicts among industrial and artisanal fishers through improved management.”


In order to achieve this, the partners have identified three primary objectives:

  • To create “a suite of modeling approaches […] [in order to] estimate a range of best management scenarios for shrimp fisheries from the upper Gulf of California and the Altata-Ensenada El Pabellón coastal lagoon.”
  • To “identify adaptive strategies for pilot testing selected ecosystem-based management scenarios for shrimp fisheries at the upper Gulf and the Altata-Ensenada El Pabellón coastal lagoon.”
  • To “evaluate the feasibility of implementing ecosystem-based management schemes for industrial and shrimp fisheries at the eco-region scale.”


Key Parties

Lead Organizations

The project is led by:

  • The National Fisheries Institute of Mexico (INAPESCA), which is the technical branch of the National Commission of Fisheries (Comisión Nacional de Acuacultura y Pesca, CONAPESCA). INAPESCA is in charge of pilot testing and evaluating alternative management scenarios suggested by the ecosystem-based models. It also leads a group of key regional stakeholders (Steering Committee), which understands the rationale behind management scenarios and results of pilot implementations, adaptatively adjusts site implementation strategies, and eventually recommends strategies for implementation at an regional scale.
  • WWF – Mexico/MAR Gulf of California Program. Participates as a member of the steering Committee, coordinates the project development, ensures technical and administrative efficiency and manages grant funding from the Packard Foundation.

Key Parties

The Gulf of California shrimp fisheries EBM initiative also involves several partner organizations, including:

  • The Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas of the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico (CICIMAR) and the Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste (CIBNOR). These are well-known regional academic institutions responsible for modeling ecosystem trophic interactions, shrimp demography and spatial dynamics of commercial fleets.
  • The Centro de Colaboración Cívica (CCC) and Noroeste Sustentable (NOS). CCC is a non-government organization (NGO) that aims to promote the sustainable development of Mexico through social participation, agreement negotiation and conflict resolution. NOS is a regional NGO dedicated to promoting multi-stakeholder processes. Both solve conflicts and handle negotiations within the Steering Committee and between the Steering Committee and external audiences.


Program Structure

Recognized academic institutions will develop a suite of modeling approaches (dynamic single-cohort models, ecological (trophic) models, and spatially-explicit models) to ascertain and design ecosystem-based management scenarios. Once ready, INAPESCA will pilot implement management scenarios during a fishing season at representative sites of the regional shrimp fishery (the Upper Gulf of California and the Altata-Ensenada El Pabellón coastal lagoon (Sinaloa). Simultaneously, a strategic collection of stakeholders (fishers’ representatives, academia, politicians, NGOs) grouped in a Steering Committee will interpret results of the pilot implementation, and aided with socioeconomic diagnoses and policy analyses will identify implementation opportunities and challenges, will adaptatively adjust implementation strategies and will recommend steps necessary for future implementation at ecoregional scale. The Steering Committee will be supported by professional conflict solvers and negotiators.


Motivations for Initiating Effort

Shrimp fisheries in the Gulf of California were chosen as the project’s focus because they are biologically and socio-economically important: they have significant impacts on species and habitats of conservation interest in the gulf and they provide important social economic benefits to coastal communities and the nation as a whole.

The move towards ecosystem-based management schemes are also justified because of failures in current shrimp fisheries management. Management regimes now used by the Mexican government to regulate the shrimp fisheries (spatial-temporal fishing closures, regulation of industrial fishing effort and gears, and stock assessments) are seen to have exploited some stocks at their maximum capacities and others have shown steep deterioration.


Ecosystem Characteristics and Threats

The Ecosystem

The Gulf of California is 1,130 kilometers long and 80,209 kilometers wide, covering an area approximately 230,000 square kilometers. It encompasses a variety of coastal and marine habitats, which range from tropical mangrove forests and coral reefs to hydrothermal vents, and spans temperate to tropical climates. The gulf’s pelagic waters are renowned for supporting abundant marine life, including 665 species of marine flora and more than 5,969 named faunal species and subspecies. 

The Gulf of California region comprises approximately a quarter of the Mexican territory and over 8 percent of the total population.

Nine percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product is attributed to the gulf region primarily due to fisheries, tourism and port activity. The shrimp fishery is the most important fishery nationally in terms of income and employment, representing nearly 40 percent of total national fish production value and generating over 30,000 to 40,000 jobs directly or indirectly.


Despite its high economic value, this fishery is controversial and problematic in the country. It is represents the primary source of income for many of the gulf’s coastal communities, but is considered overcapitalized and ecologically damaging. In particular, destructive fishing operations, bycatch, excessive fishing effort, and lack of economic incentives for sustainable fishing, have been identified as direct threats to a number of habitats and species in the gulf, and to fishers themselves.

Indirect ecosystem threats include:

  • Poverty
  • Immigration to the coastal areas
  • Pollution
  • Illegal fishing
  • Open access to fisheries
  • Inappropriate technology
  • Perverse subsidies
  • Market forces
  • Disordered fisheries
  • Insufficient surveillance and enforcement

Furthermore, population growth; run-off from industries, aquaculture and agriculture; habitat alteration or destruction; and the introduction of exotic species (whether intentional or not) are also recognized as areas of concern in the region.


Major Strategies

To reach its goal of positioning the shrimp fishery “toward sustainability and competitiveness within international markets,” the EBM initiative employed a number of strategies, which include:

  • Developing of a suite of modeling approaches (dynamic single-cohort models, ecological-trophic models, and spatially-explicit models) to design and evaluate ecosystem-based management scenarios;
  • Identifying, contacting, and organizing key institutions and persons necessary to design and implement ecosystem-based management schemes for shrimp fisheries in the gulf;
  • Attempting pilot implementation at two sites that project partners believe embody the diversity of shrimp fishery conditions in the gulf and evaluating ecosystem-based management scenarios; and
  •  “Transferring the available information to policy makers in a manner that permits the development of an ecosystem-based management strategy.”


Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation

Two pilot project sites that project partners believe embody the diversity of shrimp fishery conditions in the gulf were chosen to test and evaluate ecosystem-based management scenarios.


The Gulf of California shrimp fisheries EBM initiative has been successful in developing collaboration agreements, but many goals related to affecting the state of the ecosystem or fisheries policies themselves have not been realized.

Accomplishments include:

  • Identification of information sources for the development of desired alternative management scenarios.
  • Negotiation of collaboration agreements between information sources and the project.
  • Identification of desirable Steering Committee members and invitations for joining the project.


Factors Facilitating Progress

The Gulf of California shrimp fisheries EBM initiative has been facilitated by factors that include:

  • External Support. The existence of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation’s International Ecosystem-Based Management for Sustainable Coastal-Marine Systems Initiative.
  • New Fisheries Law (LGPAS). The new sustainable fisheries and aquaculture law in Mexico is regarded as a facilitating factor for EBM as it strives to promote a more holistic view of fisheries management and consideration of environmental impacts.



The Gulf of California shrimp fisheries EBM initiative has encountered the following challenges:

  • Lack of Human Resources. Mexico’s small pool of trained, professional experts restricts the project’s participant options, can slow progress, and can lead to conflicts of interest.
  • Social Context. There are limitations imposed by the Mexican social context, including a lack of economic alternatives for fishermen, which creates a policy problem in terms of deciding who to exclude from a fishery that is overcapitalized and overexploited such as the shrimp fishery; difficulty of implementing environmentally-oriented management strategies in areas with poverty because governments’ priorities are focused on more pressing issues; and indifference, corruption, and other governance issues undermine management decisions.
  • Access to Information. Access to government fisheries data by national non-governmental entities is limited.

  • Sectoral View. In Mexico, as in most parts of the world, fisheries are managed by on a species-specific basis and economic activities that use the same space do not communicate or work with one another despite their reciprocal influences and impacts.

  • Potential costs to Fishermen. Another challenge to EBM progress is fishers’ hesitance to participate in projects they perceive as threats to their livelihoods.
  • Concurrent Development of Different Management Schemes. The EBM project was initiated at the same time that a catch shares (individual transferable quotas, or ITQs) program was developed for the shrimp fishery in the Gulf of California. Since its initiation, the catch shares project has gained considerable interest among the government as it is perceived to be a strategy that will diminish social conflict in the shrimp fishery in Sinaloa. As a result, implementation of an ecosystem-based approach to the management of the shrimp fisheries (both industrial and artisanal) has been pushed back.


Lessons Learned

People involved in the Gulf of California shrimp fisheries EBM initiative have learned the following:

  • Be realistic about the context in which you are working. Consider whether the management tool that you are designing can realistically be used by the institutions for which it is being designed.
  • In situations where data sharing is required between data-holders with differing abilities to publish for international audiences, participants should first agree on terms of access under which they will mutually benefit from the exchange. 
  • The responsibilities and roles of each group in the collaboration should be agreed upon by all participants early in the process.


Website Links

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - Mexico Website:

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - Gulf of California Program:

The Mexican National Fisheries Institute (INAPECSA) Website:

The Mexican National Commission of Aquaculture and Fishing (CONAPESCA) Website:

The Mexican Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) Website:

The Mexican National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) Website:

The Mexican Secretariat of the Navy (SEMAR) Website:

Centro de Colaboración Cívica (CCC) Website: