May 11, 2020
CEO Note: In conversation with Renata Terrazas, Oceana’s new leader for Mexico
BY: Andy Sharpless
I am pleased to introduce you to Oceana’s newest country leader Renata Terrazas. I recently named her our Vice President for Mexico. The first thing I’ll tell you about Renata is that she’s a winner. Serving as one of our campaign directors in Mexico, she led our campaign that convinced the government to provide public access to commercial fishing data, a first time event in the history of that important fishing nation.
Before Oceana, Renata worked at a transparency and anticorruption thinktank in Mexico called Fundar, Center for Analysis and Research. She was a part of the leading team in 2014 that achieved a constitutional amendment recognizing access to information as a human right. And a year later, her team helped create one of the world’s most advanced transparency laws.
Renata is stepping up at a very challenging time. The coronavirus pandemic is not sparing Mexico. In a recent conversation with Renata, we discussed the state of Mexico’s oceans and how the coronavirus has affected Oceana’s campaigns for policies that will rebuild and protect an abundant Mexican ocean.
Andy Sharpless: How important are the oceans to life in Mexico?
Renata Terrazas: Mexico has more sea territory than land territory – 700,000 square kilometers more to be precise. Our ocean is very biodiverse with thousands of species endemic to Mexican seas and many that come here for reproduction and nursing purposes, such as humpback and blue whales. Some iconic endangered species live in our seas, such as vaquita porpoises, leatherback sea turtles, elkhorn corals, and brown sea cucumbers. We are also among the 20 most important fishing countries in the world, with more than 700 species fished in our waters, and around 2 million tons captured every year. The ocean is not only the place where most Mexicans prefer to spend their time, but also the source of a seafood industry that feeds many people and provides about two million people their livelihoods.
AS: Are you optimistic we can achieve Oceana’s top priorities in Mexico?
RT: We believe there is an excellent space to create an abundant Mexican ocean. We are focused on the fishing sector, which has traditionally operated in the dark and can therefore get away with violating the law. Oceana is campaigning for more transparency by opening our Vessel Monitoring System data, building a comprehensive traceability policy, and making information on fisheries available to the public to support accountable decision-making. We are also campaigning to rebuild ocean abundance in Mexico by passing legislation that mandates rebuilding plans for depleted fish stocks. Creating these policies will also help better the lives of fisher people. Finally, we are protecting our oceans from plastic pollution by creating a robust legal framework that reduces single-use plastics.
AS: How is the coronavirus impacting Mexico? How has daily life been affected for your family, friends, and compatriots?
RT: This pandemic is having a terrible impact on our country. Official numbers say we have 25,000 infected people and 2,271 deaths. There is a lack of funds for extensive testing, so the government has applied a sentinel surveillance method to monitor the rate of infection. Using this method, they found there is at least an estimated eight times more people infected than previously reported. Mexico is also now the most obese country in the world, surpassing the United States, which means a lot of our population have comorbidities and other pre-existing conditions that put them at risk.
As a measure to contain the pandemic, we implemented social distancing. Many businesses have closed, jobs have been lost, and we are also facing an economic crisis from the drop in oil prices, which Mexico relies on heavily. In a country with such significant inequality as Mexico, the effects are going to be disastrous.
Fisher people are also going to suffer from the difficulties of selling their products because many international and national markets closed. Meanwhile, illegal fishing is still happening during the pandemic.
As for Oceana’s office in Mexico, we are several weeks into the pandemic and are working virtually, following our government’s measures, and trying to modify our campaign strategies for when the time is opportune.
AS: How has COVID-19 affected Oceana’s current and future work in Mexico?
RT: While working virtually, we are trying to stay in touch and keep working as a strong team. Communication, more now than ever, is a crucial tool keeping us together and feeling a part of a community.
We have changed our activities, but our priorities are the same. We have postponed an expedition to Alacranes Reef, where we planned to conduct research and 3D mapping of the coral reef. This was necessary to protect ourselves and the people we love. We are flexible with our strategies and have adapted our campaigns by using tools that are better suited to this moment, such as communications and science. We are being creative in how we communicate with a public that is spending more time on social media and is eager to consume new and fresh content. We have been organizing webinars and talks on social media to reach potential ocean activists so that we can work together on future campaigns.
We are having virtual calls with decision-makers and have been working on issues related to the ocean’s health, such as traceability and rebuilding policies. Public officials are staying at home and, like us, have more time to spend analyzing policy proposals.
AS: Last year, Oceana succeeded in getting Mexico’s commercial fishing data published on the Global Fishing Watch platform for all of the country and the world to see. How will Oceana build on this victory to bring more transparency to Mexico’s fisheries?
RT: To win campaigns, we need to be creative and make use of all available tactics. That also means making use of other laws that don’t necessarily address the oceans. That happened here last year when we were able to obtain the government’s commercial fishing data using the Mexican Freedom of Information Act. The fight wasn’t easy. For years, several researchers and NGOs wanted access to this data, but authorities denied it. The access to this information was also denied to us, but we kept pushing by using the legal and institutional framework, and after six months, we got the data. For the first time in Mexico, commercial fishing activity was going to be made public. This data is now on the Global Fishing Watch platform, and more people can make use of it to understand fishing activity, but also to observe vessel behavior in protected areas.
With this victory, we made a statement, which now, many people from the fishing sector share: being transparent means more competition in a market that rewards transparency. We expect this to be the first of many steps in bringing the country’s fishing activity to the 21st century.