By Brooke Gazer for The Eye Magazine
Huatulco's twenty-first annual fishing tournament held in May 2019 gets bigger and better each year. A mere 80 fishermen entered the inaugural event in 1992; in 2018, 600 anglers cast their lines eight miles beyond Huatulco's sparkling shores.
One reason this tournament is so popular is that it is easy to enter. Of those participating, the majority fish from pangas, the same type of small boats that ferry tourists to Huatulco's many pristine beaches. Most years there are only about ten fancy fishing boats with bells, whistles and swanky chairs designed for serious sportsmen.
Gabriel Rios, of the restaurant Grillo Marinero, grew up in Huatulco. His parents were two of the original residents here before FONATUR developed the resort. He told me that those fishing from pangas win more prizes than people in swanky big vessels. As part of this year's organizing committee, he cannot enter this year, but five years ago he took fifth prize from his panga. This was in the sailfish category; his catch weighed 41 kilos (a little over 90 pounds). Gabriel won a car, but now they offer cash prizes because transporting a vehicle over the border is complicated, and Huatulco is attracting more international sportsmen.
As an eco-resort, Huatulco leads the way in conservation. Our local tournament has a policy of “Catch and Release” in two of the four categories. This is made possible with the ease of video photography. Both marlin and sailfish are released after they have been weighed and measured on camera. This policy, which was introduced in 2017, should ensure that more anglers will pull in even bigger catches in years to come.
I asked Gabriel to elaborate on “Catch and Release” because billfish put up quite a fight. I wondered about the fish's chance of survival after the hook damages the mouth as the monster struggles on the line. He showed me a picture of a circular hook which does not damage the mouth as the fish attempts to escape. These are the only hooks allowed in this year's competition and the video must show the correct hook being extracted from the mouth of the fish. One would think some of those massive beasts would learn to avoid tricky hooks. Apparently, they are not that smart, so the released fish will bite and fight another day.
Huatulco and Cabo San Lucas lead the field in this kind of wildlife conservation; they are the only Mexican tournaments on the Pacific that practice “Catch and Release”. Cabo attracts about 100 boats, compared to Huatulco's 150 last year, possibly because Cabo is more expensive to enter. Last October, the “Superbowl of Sportfishing” charged a whopping $5000 US entry fee. This makes Huatulco's tournament appear affordable at a mere 16,000 pesos (about $840 US).
In Huatulco, the 2018 champion caught and released a blue marlin weighing 120 kgs. (± 265 lbs.). It was slightly under the 136-kg (± 300 lbs.) minimum requirement imposed in Cabo for the same category . This year , Huatulco's minimum qualifying weight for marlin is 100 kgs. (± 220 lbs.), and win or lose, bagging one of these beautiful beasts is a thrilling experience.
The 2019 event offers 14 prizes totaling 2.2 million pesos (± $115,800 US). The biggest cash prize, 150 thousand pesos (± $7,900 US), is for snagging a mammoth marlin, but the real winners are the people who live in the mountains surrounding Huatulco. Aside from marlin and sailfish, the other two categories are tuna and dorado (mahi-mahi). Once all the tuna and dorado have been weighed, measured, photographed, and the winner declared, trucks haul this delicacy up into the mountains. These tasty premium fish are distributed free to low income families in various poor villages. The fact that they share their bounty from the sea says volumes about the organizers of our competition and about this community. In Huatulco, everyone wins.