Foreign Fishing

American anglers can fish the Coronado Islands legally, but they can also run afoul of regulations without the proper knowledge.

When I moved to San Diego about 40 years ago, I thought the Coronado Islands were part of California’s Channel Islands — you know, as if they all belonged to the U.S. The Coronados are clearly visible 13 miles ahead as you sail down San Diego’s ship channel. Back then, we used to anchor for the weekend in between the Coronados, fish for lunch and dinner, do a little snorkeling and scuba diving, then head back north before sunset on Sunday. Just like weekending at Catalina, right?

Times changed.

Now, most U.S. boaters realize that Mexico owns the Coronados, and the Mexican navy enforces its rules for fishing, customs and immigration. While landlubbers may not realize the islands are Mexico’s property, recreational boaters know their nautical charts clearly mark that international border.

What do boaters need? Fishing licenses, tourist cards, a temporary import permit (TIP) for the boat and the printed receipt proving they paid for all these fees. When do boat owners need them? Before they go.

At least two weeks before a planned trip, the skipper of a recreational vessel should get the ball rolling by visiting registroEmbarques/, a website that combines several others, making it easier to visit Mexico and pay all fees at once by credit card.

The online process is in English and takes at least 30 minutes, and the form can time out, so applicants should have all their facts straight before starting:
• Boat details (document or registration number, etc.)
• Existing TIP number (if any)
• Name, address and email for everyone who will be aboard (fishing licenses and tourist cards)
• Everyone’s passport number
• Credit card.
The first part (click English) opens the file for application to enter Mexican waters. (To help in case of problems, it’s a good idea to write the file name as shown on the computer’s top line.) Fishing licenses come from CONAPESCA (the National Aquaculture and Fishing Commission). The tourist cards from INM (National Migration Institute) are good for a single entry, not multiple entries, and don’t allow cardholders to work in Mexico.
Anyone who has trouble getting fishing licenses from this website should check out a different site, suggested by some boaters: The very detailed fishing license application is printable for easier review. Licenses can be valid for either a day, week, month or year, depending on the box chosen. For a three- or four-day visit, it’s cheaper to buy a one-week license ($23.20) for each person.

Next, users will be led to another page to download an Excel-type spreadsheet along with a sample of the same form in English to help fill in the details. (Again, write down the file name, just in case.) Here, the skipper will fill in the blanks to order the crew’s tourist cards (FMMs), for about $23.50 each. Also, he can order a temporary import permit (TIP) for about $55. For port of entry, pick Ensenada, which uses the code ENS. The code for United States citizens is US.

Boat owners who already have a TIP for their boat that’s still within its 10-year validity period can fill in its number, place of issue and dates.

The last step is to complete the credit card payment to Banjercito (Mexico’s military bank) and print a receipt, because it will be needed later. Print at least three legible copies to keep aboard the boat, and save the screen version on a computer.

The Coronados are a chain of four small but dramatic islands 13 miles south of Point Loma but only 5 miles into Mexican waters, four miles off Rosarito Beach. Thanks to their unique location on the lip of the Coronado Escarpment, wildlife above and below the surface is especially rich and diverse. Long protected within a national wildlife refuge, the Coronados are soon to be incorporated into Mexico’s vast new Islands of the Pacific Biosphere Reserve.

The Coronados are famous as Mexico’s most prolific fishing and wildlife region north of Mag Bay and Cabo San Lucas. Catch the limit of barracuda, bonito, yellowtail, yellow-fin tuna, dorado, several species of marlin, rock cod, white fish, calico bass, halibut, shark, swordfish and other edible species. The daily limit is 10 fish, with no more than five catches of a single species. The exception is one marlin, shark, sailfish or swordfish, and two dorado. Catch and release is encouraged for anything that won’t be eaten.

Every skipper has a favorite route to weave among North Coronado, Sugar Loaf, Middle Ground and South Coronado. Anglers can drift or anchor to fish, snorkel, scuba dive, kayak, sightsee or photograph underwater — but stepping ashore is prohibited.

The only full-time human inhabitants are a Mexican navy battalion stationed atop Smugglers’ Cove (a.k.a. Cave Cove) on the northeast side of South Coronado. Navy cruisers and patrol boats guard Mexico’s border by hailing (VHF channels 16, 13 and 22) and/or boarding any vessels going north or south. They’re looking for legal paperwork and illegal smuggling of guns, drugs or people.

I’ve been boarded here many times on different vessels, and the Mexican navy boarding and inspection parties have always been polite, well armed and deadly serious. Let them inside and hand them all relevant papers.

Boaters who have visited the Coronados have been to another country, so they need to declare that when they clear customs either at San Diego’s easy Customs Dock or their homeport.

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