Retelling the History of the Red Sea Urchin Fishery in Mexico
The red sea urchin fishery has a long harvest and management history along the Northeastern Pacific coast. In Mexico, it has been commercially harvested since 1972, and although it is one of the most important fisheries in Baja California, efforts to assess the condition and dynamics of harvestable stocks have been focused on certain harvested areas with scarce fisheries independent data. Additionally, the analysis of yearly information for small geographic areas has obscured the actual status of harvested populations. This study aims to re-assess population trends, fishing effort, and catches, incorporating all available information from the last 19 years. Information was grouped based on 14 landing sites along Baja California’s Pacific coast. Length based virtual population analysis (LVPA) was implemented to estimate site-specific catch rates and densities. Red sea urchin catches/landings varied widely within and between areas. Population density was below 1 urchin m–2 in most of the sites, and was composed of higher recruits and juvenile densities that may partially mitigate for fishery removals. LVPA produced biomass estimations that double previous estimates. We suggest that the model parameters used in previous estimations might not reflect key biological traits of the red sea urchin, failing to reproduce population trends accurately. Results from this study allowed identifying the specific sites where population attributes (biomass, densities), fishery data (catch, effort), and the combination of both (Kobe plots), suggest that urchin populations may need attention. New management measures must be adopted: maximum legal size of 110 mm, improvement on fishery logs and analysis, continuous fishery independent surveys to track changes in the population that might not be so apparent when observing only catch/biomass data. Reinforce the under legal size management strategy, since results suggest that sites with high abundances of small urchins can support higher catches.