Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is a stunning region where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea, teeming with diverse and productive ecosystems. Its coastal lagoons, mangrove forests, and pristine coral reefs are home to a wide variety of wildlife, including four species of sea turtles, 34 species of coral, 24 species of sharks and rays, and an impressive array of fish and marine mammals. Among these are the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and the endangered blue whale, underscoring the region’s global ecological significance. 

However, these ecosystems are under serious threat from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which jeopardizes the health of marine life and the sustainability of local fisheries. IUU fishing often goes unchecked due to insufficient enforcement resources and inadequate surveillance, making it a persistent and escalating challenge for local communities worldwide. 

Taking Action Against IUU Fishing 

Recognizing the urgent need to address this threat, WildAid partnered with Fishing Federations, local government agencies, and local communities in 2020 to bolster efforts against IUU fishing in Yucatán. The collaboration focused on providing essential training and resources to local groups, enabling them to effectively monitor and intercept illegal fishing activities. These efforts have been instrumental in safeguarding the rich marine biodiversity of the region. 

Engaging and Empowering Communities: Two Key Workshops 

In our ongoing mission to support these communities, WildAid organized two pivotal workshops in Yucatán this year to strengthen and evaluate community surveillance efforts: 

1. First Meeting and Workshop (December 2023):

Over 30 participants from the fishing and government sectors—all of whom play an active role in protecting coastal Yucatán—attended and had the opportunity to share experiences, lessons learned, challenges, and needs and offer solutions among the group.

WildAid’s Ahmed Burad (right) trains participants during the December workshop. 

They were also introduced to the new Officer of Fisheries Information Sharing Hub (O-FISH) and the EarthRanger App by Allen Institute for AI (AI2). O-FISH was built and used by rangers as a tool to digitize vessel boarding records and to track illegal fishing—even in remote stretches of ocean. EarthRanger integrates and displays all boarding data. By combining the two software, rangers and community surveillance participants can now record vessel information, view GPS tracking, and more—all in one place. The training sessions emphasized the importance of integrating digital tools into traditional surveillance methods to improve overall efficacy.

2. Second Meeting on Community Fisheries Surveillance (June 2024):

Building on the foundation laid in the first workshop, this meeting brought together 40 participants from nine fishing sector organizations, government institutions, and NGOs. The event focused on sharing experiences and evaluating the real-world use of O-FISH. Participants discussed the successes and challenges they faced in using the platform and provided valuable feedback for its improvement. The meeting also facilitated roundtable discussions on strategies for enhancing community surveillance and coordination with authorities.

Leveraging technology for conservation and fostering community surveillance efforts 

A significant milestone in this initiative was the adoption of O-FISH by more than three regional Fishing Federations and five community fisheries surveillance committees. These committees play a crucial role in collaborating with authorities and community groups to combat illegal fishing. By fostering a sense of shared responsibility and empowering local stakeholders, these committees are key to enhancing the effectiveness of marine protection efforts. 

Furthermore, government entities such as the Secretary of Sustainable Fisheries and Agriculture of the Yucatán (SEPASY), the National Commission of Fisheries and Agriculture (CONANPESCA), and the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP) are using or will soon be adopting O-FISH.

Participants in the June workshop pose for a photo.

Collaborative Efforts and Future Steps 

The success of the workshops emphasized the importance of integrating digital tools into traditional surveillance methods. This improves the overall efficacy and safety at sea of community efforts to prevent and combat IUU fishing. By bringing together diverse stakeholders and fostering a collaborative approach, WildAid and our partners are making significant strides in protecting Yucatán’s marine ecosystems. 

Moving forward, continued support and participation from local communities, government bodies, and conservation organizations will be essential to build on these efforts.

The expansion and development of O-FISH would not have been possible without the generous support of Schmidt Marine Partnerships and individual donors. Thank you so much for joining us in making the promise of marine protection a reality!

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About WildAid

WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect wildlife from illegal trade and other imminent threats. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $308 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too. 

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