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Sunday, Sep 25, 2022
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Mexico’s Visa Rules Impact Sportfishing

City leaders, port district tenants and sportfishing advocates are urging Mexican officials to revise recently enacted visa restrictions that some believe could do long-term damage to the local region’s crucial boating, fishing and tourism economies.

San Diego City Councilmember Scott Sherman, with representatives of the Port Tenants Association and Sportfishing Association of California, recently met with regional tourism leaders in Baja, Mexico. Their goal is to convince the Mexican government to ease new laws that require every boater to obtain a visa each time before entering Mexican waters.

Mexico passed the laws in late 2011, amid other measures aimed at enhancing immigration controls, and began enforcing them in mid-2013 by approaching visiting boaters for their visa paperwork in areas such as the Coronado Islands off the Baja Coast.

The law requires most individual boaters to submit applications, with a fee of about $33, to obtain a visa before each trip into Mexican territory.

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Local advocates of revising those restrictions said they could pose long-term harm to several types of businesses that operate out of San Diego Bay, including operators of marinas, cruise tours, fishing excursions, whale-watching trips and other types of ecotourism.

There are about 9,000 boats harbored or operating out of San Diego Bay, many of which could potentially be impacted by existing regulations, said Sharon

Cloward, president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association. The organization represents most of the 600 San Diego Bay businesses that lease land from the Unified Port of San Diego, about a quarter of which have direct ties to boating.

Sportfishing and marine recreation are components of a larger local maritime economy that employed more than 45,000 as of 2011, generating $14 billion in revenue, according to a 2012 study by research firm ERISS Corp. The study, assessing the impact of the region’s “blue economy,” was commissioned by the San Diego Workforce Partnership, San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and the Maritime Alliance.

Multi-Entry Could Create Goodwill

With the support of leaders in coastal Mexican cities that are highly dependent on tourism involving visitors from San Diego, Sherman is optimistic that national leaders in Mexico City will revise the laws, possibly by allowing for multiple entries per visa based on a period of three, six or 12 months.

A similar policy, Sherman said, is in place to cover boaters entering Mexico’s southern coastal waters from places like Guatemala.

“It’s going to create a lot of goodwill on both sides of the border,” said Sherman, adding he is hopeful that a new multi-entry visa system can be enacted by Mexico within the next two months.

If current Mexican restrictions are not relaxed, local boating and sportfishing advocates contend, the added fees and paperwork processing time could cut into the number of trips taken to Mexico by tour operators and recreational boaters. That in turn could impact companies that manufacture, harbor, and provide supplies and services geared to those boats.

Following Whales to Mexican Water

Cloward said local representatives have recently met with leaders of Mexican cities including Cabo San Lucas, Ensenada and Mazatlan, who generally agree that those communities could also be negatively impacted if visa rules remain too restrictive.

She said many people who own boats in San Diego and have grown up boating in the region undertake that expense with the expectation that they will be able to roam a wide swath of waters in the border region. Many don’t begin their local trips with the intention of going to Mexico.

“If you’re in a boat following some whales, you could enter into Mexican waters without even knowing it,” Cloward said, adding that local representatives are also seeking clarity regarding how and where the new laws are being enforced by Mexico.

Proponents of changing the laws said sportfishing and other local boat trips to Mexico generate hotel room stays and other significant ripple impacts in San Diego and coastal Mexico, and recreational tourism is a big component of joint efforts to enhance the economic profile of the cross-border region.

“You want people with boats to be able to visit all of these other places while they’re staying in San Diego — like Tijuana and Rosarita and Ensenada,” said Ken Franke, president of the San Diego-based Sportfishing Association of California, who participated in recent talks with Mexican officials from coastal areas.

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