After spending close to a week in San Felipe and talking with many different people in the community about the crisis facing the vaquita, I prepared to depart for Ensenada. Our crew had been joined by translator, filmmaker and actress Gabriella Sosa, and Gabi would be joining me on this trip across the peninsula, crossing the San Pedro Range just North of the Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park.
The drive was spectacular. The spring rains had come a few weeks previous and the hills were green and full of wildflowers. The small mountain towns that we drove through were quaint and had a unique charm. As we dropped down the west side of the range we drove through beautiful, lush valleys before coming into view of the coast and the city of Ensenada.
The Festival of Shellfish and New Wine (Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo) is a yearly event that brings shellfish producers, restaurants and vineyards from throughout Northern Baja to the coast of Ensenada to celebrate the region’s bounty. We were particularly interested in two of the vendors at this event – local restaurants that are known to focus on responsibly sourced seafood.
Drew Deckman is the chef and owner of the restaurant Deckman’s, which is located just outside of Ensenada. Drew is at the center of this new and rapidly growing movement towards responsibly sourced seafood, and he clearly sees this annual event as an ideal way to showcase his approach towards sourcing seafood. His booth was set up alongside the booth for the local shellfish producer that provides much of the product that he sells at his resturant, and he explained their shared mission and how he works closely with shellfish producers to ensure that they are serving the best possible product without harming the local ocean environment.
We also spoke at length with the chef of the San Felipe based restaurant that takes its name from the subject of our film, the vaquita. La Vaquita Restaurant is located right in downtown San Felipe, and is a favorite spot for tourists visiting the area. The resturant’s chef Asley Acuña explained how they have adapted their menu as awareness has spread about the vaquita’s plight and new laws against gillnet fishing have been imposed in the Northern Gulf. It was clear that he cares deeply about knowing where the seafood that they serve comes from, and they have been forced to get creative with their menu as local seafood options have become more scarce.
I was also able to talk with the director of the fishing and aquaculture department (SEPESCA) for the state of Northern Baja California, Matías Agana Rydaleh. Matías expressed hope for the recovery of the vaquita, while recognizing that more still needs to be done to stop the illegal fishing of totoaba. I was very grateful to Matías for being so willing to talk on camera with me, and we actually shared stories from my home state of Idaho! It turns out that Matías’s grandfather grew up in Idaho, and he has spent time traveling in the state.
Although Gabi and I had a hugely successful shoot, while also finding time to enjoy the local wine and shellfish, it was difficult to forget about the crisis situation that we had left behind in San Felipe. Sean Bogle and Brenda Razo will remain in San Felipe through the end of this week, where they are documenting a dramatic increase in the Mexican Navy and Military presence in the town. We can only hope that this step up in the enforcement effort will deter the illegal totoaba fishing that by all accounts has become rampant across the Northern Gulf of California.
We are currently working on a comprehensive article laying out everything that we’ve seen this past week related to illegal totoaba fishing, so keep your eye on our Souls of the Vermilion Sea blog in the coming days. The situation in the region is escalating rapidly, and we need to be extremely cautious about how we address the issue for the sake of our crew’s safety.
Tags: baja california seafood, baja shellfish, seafood festival baja, SEPESCA, shellfish and new wine festival, shellfish festival, sustainable seafood, sustainable shellfish, Vaquita, vaquita conservation