Coastal Marine Spatial Planning in the Gulf of California – an update from CEDO

Coastal Marine Spatial Planning in the Gulf of California – an update from CEDO

By Peggy J. Turk Boyer, Hem Nalini Morzaria Luna, Tonatiuh Carrillo, Elia Polanco, Caroline Downton, Paloma Valdivia, CEDO

For the past years, the Blue Solutions Initiative has been supporting the Coastal Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) process in the Northern Gulf of California to promote this local example and share the important lessons from this process (see also here). The project is being led by the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO), based in Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico. This article describes the process that was initiated with small-scale fishers, the economically most important, but probably least organized activity in the region.

The approach

In the northeastern Gulf of California, Sonora, Mexico a CMSP process pioneers a bottom-up approach bringing diverse stakeholders to the planning table and engaging them in implementing activities. It focuses on the economic interests of stakeholders, giving priority to traditional users, such as fishers and local wetland users. It is driven by local communities who become stewards of their ecosystems, proposing solutions and implementing management actions at the same time, supported by the government. This is in contrast with other CMSP processes which take many years from planning to implementation. It also contrasts with the top-down approach that has been implemented in the region for the Upper Gulf of California/Colorado Delta Biosphere Reserve, where the primary driver is the conservation of two endangered species (the vaquita porpoise and the totoaba, a giant croaker).

The context

The socio-political and biophysical interconnections along the coast of Sonora from Puerto Peñasco to Puerto Lobos help define a unique Corridor ecosystem, with six coastal communities that share the use of the diverse marine and coastal habitats. Fishing (small-scale fishing, recreational and industrial), is the mainstay of the economy, while tourism is strong in Puerto Peñasco, the largest community, and growing in others.  Mining and agriculture are supplemental activities for coastal communities (,-113.3087783,9z ).

Ultimately all who use this Corridor will need to be involved in an integrated plan for its use. We are initiating the CMSP process with individual sectors and will eventually create an exchange forum to discuss shared objectives for resource management with all users.  Since small-scale fisheries is the most important economic and probably the least organized activity in the region, we began by addressing the problems faced by fishermen and other traditional wetland users.

Over 50% of coastal fishing in the Puerto Peñasco-Puerto Lobos Biological Corridor still occurs without the required permits, especially in the five smaller communities in the municipality of Caborca, which has no fisheries office. The process to obtain permits is costly, complicated and involves political favors and fishermen have lacked the resources and capacity to access them. Many don’t have the papers needed to prove their ownership of boats and motors, a requirement for registration. This leaves fishermen vulnerable when others come into their traditional fishing grounds or start developments on coastal lands, where they launch their boats.  Fishing in the adjacent Upper Gulf of California Biosphere Reserve has been restricted to protect the endangered vaquita porpoise. As a result, fishermen from the Biosphere Reserve are now moving to the Corridor to harvest the rich resources in this area. Overfishing is a severe problem and conflicts are increasing among fishermen, between fishing communities and between fishing and tourism interests. There is little enforcement of fisheries regulations and fishermen cannot rely on the authorities to solve the growing problems.  Coastal development boomed in the region in 2006-07, then went through a downturn at the change of the decade, and now is growing rapidly once again, impacting the livelihoods of wetland users and fishers.

The first steps Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement and Good Governance

A transparent governance structure and meaningful engagement are often cited as two of the most important enabling conditions for successful CMSP implementation. In the isolated communities of the Corridor, traditional users lack organization and institutional structure for collective action, and likewise there are few forums that permit their interaction with government and scientists. A governance structure was designed to guarantee equitable participation and engagement of direct stakeholders and other actors needed to resolve fisheries problems. This was accompanied by a program for strengthening local stakeholders’ capacity to participate in making informed decisions and in communication with their communities and other stakeholders.

The management team operating in the Corridor is organized as a multi-tiered structure with four working groups (Figure 1). CEDO is facilitating this process and in 2015 convened interested fishermen in each community to discuss their problems and elect representatives from their community as primary contacts and to participate in an Intercommunity Fisher Group (GIR), Figure 2. CEDO supports this intercommunity group with information and decision making. The Nuclear Group (GN) involves authorities that have jurisdiction over fisheries and community issues and a technical group (GT) provides scientific data and advice. The communities (COM) also play an important role in validating the decisions of the Intercommunity Group.  All groups convene several times a year to hear directly from each other and to solidify proposals and solutions.  In 2016, 109 meetings/workshops and 32 trainings were held across the different management groups.

Figure 1. Management Model for the Puerto Peñasco-Puerto Lobos Biological Corridor, Northern Gulf of California, Mexico. Local communities (PPE=Puerto Peñasco, BSJ=Bahia San Jorge, STO=Santo Thomas, DDC=Desemboque de Caborca, and PLO=Puerto Lobos) interact with their elected representatives in the Intercommunity Group of fishers (GIR). The GIR receives feedback and interacts with a Technical Group (GT) which brings scientific data and perspective to the process, and a Nuclear Group (GN) of authorities gives feedback and guidance on formalization and implementation.

Figure 2. Intercommunity Fisher Group (GIR) elected in 2015 when the project began. In fall 2016 the group elected additional members to increase representation in the larger communities of Puerto Peñasco and Desemboque. The group increased from 28 to 45 members. (copyright CEDO Intercultural)

Blue planning in action Design of Spatial Management Tools

The GIR analyzed two different spatially explicit management tools from Mexico’s fisheries law: fisheries refuges and locally managed areas (concessions).  The CEDO team created base maps with layers of geo-referenced data generated through monitoring, literature data and interviews with fishermen (Figure 3).  Because fishermen participated in generating part of the data, they showed confidence in the maps presented. The technical team helped prioritize the layers for creating proposals to present to fishermen.

For fisheries refuges the GIR analyzed the proposed areas in two categories, as defined by the Mexican NOM-049-SAG/PESC-2014: areas recommended for total closure for all species for a period of five years and areas recommended for partial closure for particular species or gear types. After several workshops and incorporating feedback from the GT and the GN the results are very promising. The GIR has agreed to propose a network of 27 fisheries refuges (10 total and 17 partial) to their communities. This encompasses 103,050 hectares or 7.0% of the total area of the Corridor.

Figure 3. Map of the Northern Gulf of California, Mexico, delimiting the Puerto Peñasco-Puerto Lobos Corridor, Sonora (in red), which incorporates primary fishing areas of six communities. Data for fishing areas taken from geo-referenced sources, including fishermen interviews, beach monitoring, and fisher logbooks.

Potential local management areas were proposed for benthic and sessile species, including only the species fished by each community. The proposed areas were studied, analyzed, and revised by fishermen from the GIR to create a final map, delineating exclusive fishing areas for the designated resources for each of the six communities of the Corridor.

Integrating the management plan


With the overall goal of reducing spatial conflicts, regularizing fishing effort and achieving sustainable use of resources and strengthening stewardship, these and other management instruments are being combined to create an integrated plan for spatial-temporal management of fisheries in the Corridor (Figure 4). Once consensus is reached with the entire management team on the best combined scenario, a proposal will be presented to government authorities for legalizing the different instruments.

Since distinct economic sectors operate under different legal frameworks, it makes sense to work with one sector at a time and to proceed with formalizing the pertinent instruments for that activity. For this process, we hope to have tangible legal results before the Mexican federal government changes hands in 2018.  Because of the strong commitment of stakeholders, many management actions are already being implemented voluntarily.

Lessons learned

While the current socio-political and environmental context of the Corridor, near the U.S. Mexico border and overlapping the Upper Gulf Reserve, suggest overwhelming barriers and uncertainty for achieving a successful CMSP process in this region, the project is receiving substantial interest and support. In fact the intense conflict in the area underscores the need to find solutions.  The scale and scope of the project are justified by the boundaries of the ecosystem and local use and they encompass the dimensions of the problems faced by communities.   The CMSP process that is unfolding in the Puerto Peñasco – Puerto Lobos Biological Corridor meets most of the conditions identified in a study on “MSP in Practice” (UNEP & GEF-STAP 2014) including meaningful engagement, unambiguous goals, good governance arrangements, transparent decision making, data and knowledge, strong legal framework, and adequate funding, as well as the presence of a local champion.


Citation:  UNEP & GEF-STAP (2014) “Marine Spatial Planning in Practice – Transitioning from Planning to Implementation. An analysis of global Marine Spatial Planning experiences”.  Thomas, H. L., Olsen, S., & Vestergaard, O. (Eds), UNEP Nairobi, pp. 36.