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Mexico 2000

At the end of February 2000, I had the opportunity to travel with my wife, Bonnie, to Ensenada in the Northwest region of Baja, California Mexico to tour shellfish farms in the area.

As many know, I travel a lot and even though my wife Bonnie works with me in the same company, we don’t get to travel together very often. As well as business, we were both looking forward to a few days vacation in the heat of Mexico taking refuge from the cold and snow of our home in central Canada.

Our host was Sergio Guevara whom I met at WAS (World Aquaculture Society) meetings in Las Vegas a few years back. Sergio’s company is Acuacultura Oceanica and produces, processes and markets oysters and mussels.

Sergio and I have kept in touch over the years on technical issues and equipment advances and he invited me down some time ago to observe how the culture of mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) and pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas) was done in Mexico.

Sergio had arranged for us to stay at the resort "Las Rosas" managed by his friend Marcos. Las Rosas was an incredible place to stay with first class facilities, excellent food, impeccable service and a view of the full ocean crashing into the shore. It was one of those views that made you appreciate the beautiful world we live in. We were made to feel very at home at Las Rosas – a five star facility, at a three star price. It was not what we expected to find and we can’t thank Marcos and his staff enough for their hospitality.

I must admit I had a lot of preconceptions about Mexico from previous travel to some other southern destinations. The perception was of intense heat, water quality problems and poor sanitary conditions. As well I had heard through the media of reports of challenges with some government officials and corrupt activities, the reality however was much different.

I have to apologize to the people of Mexico for these perceptions because in contrast we found that water quality and government cooperation, especially for aquaculture applications, were better than what I have been observing in some areas of Canada and the United States lately.

Due to the more temperate than tropical region being influenced by the cool waters off the Pacific, the temperatures were not as high as we expected. Ironically at the same time at our home in Ontario Canada we were going through a very mild winter spell and on one day it was only 5° C warmer in Ensenada than it was at home.

The water quality was one of the more interesting realities for me both from a consumption and a shellfish growing perspective.

Sergio explained that modern drinking water treatment systems in the municipality as well as up to date municipal sewage treatment plants were well advanced. In fact, unlike many shellfish growing areas in Canada and the United States, they do not have toxic water quality harvest shutdowns like we regularly have on both coasts. In order for growers to export products into the US, leases have to be FDA approved for water quality. A number of growers that focus on export are FDA approved and regularly monitored.

Sergio's leases are located in Ensenada Bay. He enjoys full oceanographic conditions with the exception of an island in the mouth of the bay that helps in breaking up the gigantic swell and wave activities arriving from the central Pacific.

As a result, there is quite a bit of upwelling and flushing action that accounts for the productive water conditions with temperatures ranging from 14° C to a high in the summer of almost 20° C.

The husbandry method of choice in the area is a static submerged longline deployed in 70 feet of water, 15 – 20 feet below the surface.

This is made up of 200 meters of usable longline with approximately 55-meter anchor lines from either end. The longline is positioned in place by double 205 litre pressurized submerged drums spaced every 25 meters along the longline. These are held down by a rope attached to a 1 tonne anchor directly below and again spaced every 25 meters. To help identify the position of the lines, a rope from the longline at each anchor/buoyancy point is extended to an additional surface drum which also provides backup in case the need arises for additional buoyancy at high growth production times.

From the lines are suspended 7-meter mussel socks that produce a net harvest of 5.6 pounds per foot.

Deployment and harvest are carried out by two divers from the surface supported from a compressor mounted to an open fiberglass 25 foot work boat that has a small crane with an electric winch mounted centrally midship. A tiller handle 115hp outboard powers the boat for the 15 – 20 minute ride from farm to home base.

Socks are filled at the socking table on shore and then moved to the site where they travel down a deployment line for the divers to attach to the static downline.

At harvest one year later, the line from the crane is attached to the socks and they are brought to the surface to be stripped at the plant or shore.

Sergio’s crew also grows oysters on the same longlines using lines of twisted rope with oyster shell attached as cultch. There are typically 35 shells per 7-meter lines producing approximately 5 oysters per shell from remote set in 12 months.

In some cases, they will experience a mussel set on the oyster lines and end up with a double species production on a single line.

We had the great pleasure of tasting some of Sergio’s shellfish at a lovely restaurant called Las Conchas. From marinated mussels, oysters on the half shell to sweet scallops and tender clams, the meal was fit for a king. Of course, the great wine from Mexican vineyards topped it off nicely.

Our host also arranged for visits to other aquaculture related activities and to meet the people involved. Our first stop was to the offices of Agromarinos where we met with Carlos Smith and Francisco Aquirre. Agromarinos raises oysters and clams and sell to both Mexico and the US markets. The company has been around for a number of years and has a growout facility in the San Quintin area. This area is primarily an intertidal growout site with a tidal range on site of 0 to 3-4 feet.

Agromarinos uses an off bottom growout system comprised of racks of ABS piping and hardwood sticks to provide bracing. The rack forms a structure that is 5 feet wide and 20 feet long and supports five 20-foot pieces of pipe. From this, 2.1/2-foot strings of pre-remote set oyster shells are hung approximately 1 foot apart. Typically, 5 shells with 6 oysters per shell are the growout results experienced.

About a month before harvest, the product is collected, separated, stacked in ADPI mesh bags and then installed on top of the racks to allow wave action to clean and shape the shell from tumbling action.

Due to the high salinity level in the area (35-ppm) the cooler water and the possibility of a different species of nutrient uptake, both the oysters and the mussels had a very impressive taste.

While in Ensenada, we had the pleasure of touring the University of Mexico at Baja Aquacultural Section as well as the research labs of CICESE, a government supported marine biology center. Everyone we met was friendly and accommodating.

Except for the cooler than expected weather, my first trip to Mexican aquacultural operations was a great surprise and quite impressive. With the opportunities to develop and the mechanization that is taking place in the industry, aquaculture in Mexico has a lot of promise.

Thanks to Sergio for being such a great host. As you say Sergio, "It’s good to have a friend at the party."

We look forward to coming back again.

Contact Don Bishop at:
Fukui North America
PO Box 669
110-B Bonnechere St.W.
Eganville, Ontario K0J 1T0
**NEW**Tel: 613-559-0075 or 613-628-5266
**NEW**Fax: 613-432-9494
Email: kate@fukuina.com or don@bishopaquatic.com

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