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Agricultura, sociedad y desarrollo

versión impresa ISSN 1870-5472

agric. soc. desarro vol.15 no.4 Texcoco oct./dic. 2018



Normative and Institutional Evolution of Aquaculture in Mexico

Martha B. Cuéllar-Lugo1 

Alberto Asiain-Hoyos1 

José P. Juárez-Sánchez2  * 

Juan L. Reta-Mendiola1 

Felipe Gallardo-López1 

1Campus Veracruz, Colegio de Postgraduados (;;;

2 Campus Puebla, Colegio de Postgraduados (pjuá


At the global level, aquaculture has had continuous growth during the last 40 years, being one of the branches with highest sustained annual growth rate in the primary sector. Paradoxically, although Mexico has the environmental, economic and social conditions to maintain or exceed international trends, official figures show a limited growth. In this study the hypothesis suggested is that the normative and institutional instability, as well as the low continuity and follow-up in policies focused on aquaculture inhibit the growth of this productive sector. The objective was to analyze the normative and institutional evolution of aquaculture in Mexico, applying the method of Legal Science. Presidential decisions that determine institutions, organisms and agencies in charge of the organization, promotion and development of the aquaculture sector are specified chronologically. The results allowed concluding that due to the multiplicity of institutions and legislation in the matter, there is deficient development in this sector.

Key words: aquaculture development; aquaculture legislation; aquaculture legal system


A nivel mundial, la acuacultura ha tenido un crecimiento continuo durante los últimos 40 años, siendo una de las ramas del sector primario con mayor tasa de crecimiento sostenido anual. Paradójicamente, a pesar de que en México existen las condiciones ambientales, económicas y sociales para mantener o superar las tendencias internacionales, cifras oficiales muestran un crecimiento limitado. En este trabajo se plantea como hipótesis que la inestabilidad normativa e institucional, así como la poca continuidad y seguimiento en las políticas enfocadas a la acuacultura, inhiben el crecimiento de este sector productivo. El objetivo fue analizar la evolución normativa e institucional de la acuacultura en México, aplicando el método de la Ciencia Jurídica; se puntualizan de manera cronológica las decisiones presidenciales que determinaron las instituciones, organismos y dependencias que se encargaron de la organización, fomento y desarrollo del sector acuícola. Los resultados permitieron concluir que, debido a la multiplicidad de instituciones y normatividad en la materia, existe un deficiente desarrollo de este sector.

Palabras clave: desarrollo acuícola; legislación acuícola; sistema jurídico acuícola


The dietary needs of the population at the global level have been relatively satisfied, primarily by agricultural, livestock and fishing activities; however, the food requirements cannot be solved solely with the intensification of these activities and particularly with fishing overexploitation, since there is a risk of exhausting species of dietary and commercial interest (Godfray et al., 2010; Morales-Díaz, 2015; Taylor et al., 2016). Within this context, aquaculture emerges as a primary productive sector parallel to agriculture and livestock production, which can be seen as a strategic sector for food production (Platas-Rosado and Vilaboa-Arroniz, 2014; Anderson et al., 2017).

Presently, aquaculture represents the food production sector with most accelerated growth, contributing to the global fishing production with 44 % in 2013-2015, and it is projected for 2021 and 2025 to exceed by 52 % the fishing products destined to food (Msangi et al., 2013; FAO, 2016).

In Mexico aquaculture has reached a mean annual growth rate of 15 % and a production of 337 018 t, in which around 56 thousand fish farmers participate who operate the 9230 farms registered, representing 22 % of the fishing activity of the country (SAGARPA, 2017).

It should be highlighted that the primary productive sector contributes 6.6 % to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (INEGI, 2017). Although the fish farming sector is relatively small in terms of the GDP, it is one of the most promising activities in the socioeconomic sphere (Rosales-Izunza and Acevedo-Valerio, 2012), since Mexico has great aquatic biodiversity and valuable marine resources, which is why it is fundamental for there to be institutions and legal instruments that are efficient and capable of dealing with the challenges that producers and their communities face (FAO, 2014).

However, the normative and institutional evolution of the aquaculture activity in Mexico has suffered diverse transformations from which a multiplicity of procedures and requirements have been derived to formalize this activity, with the consequence that between 70 and 90 % of the aquaculture production is carried out informally (Esquivel-López et al., 2016).

To formalize this sector, an institutional and normative framework is required that promotes, supports and encourages aquaculture, through state policies and structural organization strategies between government, academia-science, and producers, to attain an increase in aquatic production and competitiveness (CONAPESCA, 2008; CONAPESCA, 2010; Rodríguez-Vázquez and Flores-Nava, 2014; FAO, 2016).

Methodological Approach

The study sustains the hypothesis that: “the normative and institutional instability, as well as the scarce continuity and follow-up in policies focused on aquaculture, inhibit the growth of this productive sector”.

The study was carried out with the methodological approach of Legal Science, where data derived from documental research were analyzed and linked, and in turn it is divided into two parts: the legal analysis of the aquaculture sector in Mexico and the descriptive-proactive analysis of the functioning and structure of the economic-institutional system (Tamayo-Jiménez, 2012).

Then the Sociological Method was applied, whose foundation lies in the idea that the Law is a social product and, as such, it is not indifferent to the social relation that it regulates (Álvarez-Undurraga, 2002). This methodology is descriptive with regards to the structure and composition of the aquaculture legal system in Mexico and explicative since the reasons and the logic of the legal-institutional evolution of this system are detailed.

Finally, an Integral Analysis was developed that consisted in examining the first two stages, thus defining the implications of the normative and institutional evolution of aquaculture on the socioeconomic and productive development of this activity in Mexico.

Results and Discussion

In this section the normative and institutional evolution of aquaculture in Mexico is described through four economic models applied in the country, as well as the main causes and consequences that have originated the gradual socioeconomic and productive development of the sector.

The genesis of aquaculture in Mexico

Aquaculture in Mexico begins in Pre-Hispanic times and was developed for religious purposes (Juárez-Palacios, 1987). Mesoamerican cultures practiced this activity to worship the god of fishing and groups like the Aztec denominated “Opchtli” (left-handed, minor god or tlatoque), inventor of nets and other instruments for fishing (Cifuentes-Lemus and Cupul-Magaña, 2002).

During Colonial times, various traditions and practices for food production were lost, including aquaculture (Urbina, 1978; Lechuga and González, 1985; Aguilera and Noriega, 1988). Religious and ornamental aquaculture was displaced by fishing, focusing primarily in the extraction of pearl, whale and oyster. For this reason, the Spanish crown regulated only fishing, and resulted in the stagnation of this activity in independent Mexico (Gutiérrez-Yurrita, 1999). It is evident that since then the normative aspects were fluctuating and reflected a cultural-legal void in aquaculture. Therefore, this period was characterized by the backwardness and loss of traditions (Aguilera and Noriega, 1988; Gutiérrez-Yurrita, 1999), contributing to food scarcity. Therefore, in 1772, Don Antonio Alzate took on the task of fostering this activity by performing studies where there were possibilities for its development, as in the banks of the Zumpango and Xochimilco lakes, as well as in the Chapultepec, Churubusco, San Joaquín and Coyoacán ponds (Cházari, 1884; SEPESCA, 1993). Despite this development approach, scarce importance was given to the benefits that aquaculture could provide.

During the early years of independent Mexico, the aquaculture sector continued without being prominent as a productive activity, which is why the attention continued centering on fishing. The regulation was focused on aspects of fishing, for example determining who had permission, the tools that could be used, when to have closed seasons, and the sanctions in case of breaching a regulation (Cámara de Diputados, 2014). The aquaculture activity was taken up again in 1860 when President Miguel Miramón granted the exclusive privilege to Carlos Jacobi for the introduction of fresh water fish, with permission to propagate and let fish acclimate in Valle de México (Márquez-Díaz, 2002; Abraham-Ramos, 2011).

In 1872, under President Juárez, the first fishing laws were published: “the instruction about the way to proceed regarding fisheries” (Cámara de Diputados, 2014). With this, a new stage in aquaculture in Mexico began through the promulgation of laws and regulations destined to deal with this productive sector (Table 1).

Table 1 Normative and institutional framework for aquaculture in Mexico (1872-1934). 

Presidente Año Transformación normativa e institucional Objetivo
Benito Juárez 1872 Primera legislación pesquera "La instrucción sobre la manera de proceder respecto a las pesquerías" Únicamente se regula a la pesca.
Manuel González 1883 Secretaría de Fomento, Colonización, Industria y Comercio La piscicultura fue concebida como una actividad económica complementaria y de apoyo social.
Porfirio Díaz 1891 Oficina de Piscicultura, dependiente de la Secretaría de Fomento Organismo encargado de atender los trámites y requisitos para el uso y aprovechamiento de los recursos pesqueros.
Francisco I. Madero 1915 Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento Se declara la importancia que el sector pesquero tenía en el país.
Venustiano Carranza 1917 Dirección Forestal de Caza y Pesca Organismo que se incorpora a la Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento, con la finalidad del despacho de asuntos del sector pesquero.
Álvaro Obregón 1924 Dirección de Pesquerías Regular, fomentar y desarrollar la actividad pesquera.
Plutarco Elías Calles 1925 Ley de Pesca Establecer los requisitos para la explotación de los recursos naturales.
Emilio Portes Gil 1929 Departamento Autónomo Forestal de Caza y Pesca Fomentar la protección, investigación y difusión de la actividad acuícola.
Lázaro Cárdenas del Río 1934 Departamento Forestal de Caza y Pesca Capacitar a productores, a través de los Institutos de Enseñanza Superior y de Investigación Forestal de Caza y Pesca.

Source: authors' elaboration.

Organized fish farming began in 1883 when the Ministry of Promotion, Colonization, Industry and Commerce commissioned Esteban Cházari to study the possibilities of fish farming. This made him the great precursor, teacher and architect of fish farming in our country (Cházari, 1884; Sevilla, 1981), beginning his studies through the introduction of exotic species such as carp (Cyprinus carpio), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and salmon (Salmo spp.) (Aguilera et al., 1986). In this context, Mexico began the first attempts to regulate, develop and promote fish farming, which is conceived as a complementary economic activity and of social support to rural communities to increase the consumption of animal protein (Juárez- Palacios, 1987), in addition to being a source that generates employment and economic income, as well as currencies for the country.

In 1891, under President Porfirio Díaz, the Fish Farming Office was created dependent on the Ministry of Promotion (DOF, 1994), which had the objective of providing legal certainty with regard to the procedures and requirements to exploit and reproduce marine resources. However, this institution did not have a relevant impact or transcendence since almost 10 years had to pass in order for this productive sector to be reactivated through breeding black bass in Poncitlán, Jalisco (Arredondo- Figueroa, 1997).

Derived from these first attempts at aquaculture, both productive and institutional, the need to highlight that Mexico had sufficient natural resources to promote this activity, emerges; facing this, in 1912 President Francisco I. Madero declares the importance of the sector in the country, and with its development expected to obtain the basis of the diet and the economy of the Mexican people (Arredondo-Figueroa and Lozano-García, 2003).

Continuing with the idea of improving this productive sector, the Ministry of Promotion, Colonization and Industry was created in 1915, and within it the Direction of Biological Studies was founded with the aim of implementing techniques for the reproduction of new species (Ledesma-Mateos and Barahona-Echeverría, 1999). However, in 1917 under the presidential period of Venustiano Carranza, structural changes arose in the legal treatment of aquaculture since from belonging to the Direction of Biological Studies it became part of the Forestry Direction of Hunting and Fishing, dependent on the new Ministry of Agriculture and Promotion (Cifuentes-Lemus and Cupul-Magaña, 2002). However, for the adaptation of this new management of aquaculture, strategies are used that were scarcely focused on the development of this sector.

In addition to this institutional instability, during the presidency of Álvaro Obregón, aquaculture ceased to be part of the Forestry Direction of Hunting and Fishing, and became part in 1924 of the Direction of Fisheries, whose attribution was to regulate, promote and develop the fishing activity through the establishment of agencies and inspection offices in various points of the country (Gortari, 1963). Although this change in the Federal Public Administration gave more importance to the aquaculture sector, leaving its treatment in a specialized direction in the matter, it is evident that aquaculture activity was linked from its beginnings with fishing, without taking into account that the first is a productive activity, while fishing is an extractive activity.

In 1925, under President Plutarco Elías Calles, the first Fishing Law was promulgated, which regulated the requirements, procedures, prohibitions and sanctions in aquaculture and fishing activities (Ojeda-Paullada, 1993). This legislation has as consequence the need to modernize and improve the development of aquaculture production; therefore, in 1929 the Autonomous Forestry Department of Hunting and Fishing was created, where it was considered that scientific and technological research, as well as the diffusion plans of this activity, was one of the main strategies for development of this sector, and foreign advisers in fish farming were hired as consequence (Ramírez-Granados and Sevilla, 1996).

To follow up these strategies, in 1934, under the presidential period of Lázaro Cárdenas, two institutes were created, Higher Teaching and Forestry Research in Hunting and Fishing (Arredondo-Figueroa and Lozano-García, 2003); in addition to the hiring of Yoshiichi Matsui and Toshie Yamashita, specialized foreign technicians, mainly to develop studies about the reproduction, survival, feeding and larvae development, until managing to close the life cycle of white fish. These studies were carried out in the limnology research station in the Hacienda de Ibarra manor, now known as CRIP-Pátzcuaro (INAPESCA, 2011).

Aquaculture in Mexico, from the “Imports-substitution industrialization” to the “Neoliberal” economic models

The Second World War (1939-1945) was a defining factor for the development of the Mexican economy, since the demand for Mexican products began, as most developed countries were producing war supplies. The government actively promoted industrial development (Cordera, 2015). This process began during Ávila Camacho’s presidential period through the promotion of the agricultural sector, where aquaculture was included, among other agriculture and livestock production activities (Monserrat-Huerta and Chávez-Presa, 2003). This period, also known as the “Mexican miracle”, was characterized for having sustained growth based on investments for the formation of a modern and industrialized nation; this economic model was called “Imports-substitution industrialization” (Domingo, 2005) and allowed participation of both the public and the private sector. Through the synergy of these two sectors, a production alliance was formed that made possible the country’s industrialization (Villa-Issa, 2011).

In 1943 this industrialization process impacted the aquaculture sector through the construction of the “El Zarco” Federal Aquaculture Center located in Estado de México (FAO, 1988), which in turn had institutional consequences because the Autonomous Forestry Department of Hunting and Fishing was disintegrated and the General Direction of Fishing and Related Industries was constituted, dependent on the Ministry of the Navy, adopting functions for the development, promotion, protection and control of marine, river and lake fauna and flora (Arredondo-Figueroa, 1997). This institutional change was favorable for aquaculture production; although it is true that normativity regarding the requirements and permits needed for production became more rigid, it was also a defining factor for credit promotion, and the National Cooperative Promotion Bank (Banco Nacional de Fomento Cooperativo, S. A. de C. V.) was founded (Fadl- Kuri and Puchot-Santander, 1995).

Thanks to the programs for aquaculture promotion, in 1949 the Rockefeller Foundation commissioned Dr. H. W. Jackson, biologist from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, to carry out studies to determine the fish farming possibilities of our country (Sevilla, 1981), proving that aquaculture represents a socioeconomic benefit and, as a result, Mexico began construction work for aquaculture centers devoted to the production and breeding of young, particularly carp, species associated to so-called rural fish farming, with the aim of increasing the availability of foods (Mártir-Mendoza, 2006).

Unfortunately, in 1946 aquaculture changed again in administrative terms, becoming integrated to the new Direction of Lagoons and Coasts, dependent on the Ministry of Hydraulic Resources (Aboites-Aguilar et al., 2010), which among its multiple functions and attributions included regulating fishing and aquaculture, focusing primarily on fishing. For the regulation of this sector, the Fishing Law of the Mexican United States (1950) was issued, giving aquaculture a scientific character and defining it as: “the activity that is carried out with the aims of study, repopulation, research, experimentation, cultivation or to obtain specimens destined to aquariums or museums” and, according to Article 16, fraction VII: “everything referring to rural fish farming should be promoted and addressed”. To deal with this mandate, the Commission for the Promotion of Rural Fish Farming was created within the Ministry of the Navy, whose main objective was to recover and capitalize on past experiences and start planning this activity in Mexico; as consequence, in 1959 the National Institute Biological Research on Fishing was created, including in its organization the Department of fish farming, oyster breeding and other biotechnologies, which allowed developing and fulfilling the objectives of the Fishing Law, that is, fostering rural fish farming and particularly breeding of oyster, abalone and sea lobster (Arredondo-Figueroa and Lozano-García, 2003).

Later, in the period of President Luis Echeverría Álvarez, Mexico underwent a severe economic crisis, and the need to develop a new economic policy arose, which is known as “Shared Development” and it forced a change in strategies (Monserrat-Huerta and Chávez-Presa, 2003). Among them, the transformation in the Public Administration of the aquaculture and fishing sector, creating in 1971 the Sub-ministry of Fishing, integrated by four directions: Fishing Technology; Fishing Regions; Fishing Planning and Promotion; and Training and Cooperative Promotion. The National Fishing Institute was also created, in addition to legislative innovations, such as issuing the Law of National Waters and, according to Article 2, fraction XII, the following is considered of public use: “the establishment of irrigation districts, irrigation units for rural development, drainage districts, and protection against flooding and aquaculture districts”, whose aim was to exploit integrally the resources available (Garmendia-Cedillo, 2013). Here, the aquaculture districts in Nayarit stand out, created in 1972; the District of the Papaloapan Basin, Veracruz, created in 1973; and the District of Tabasco, in 1973 (Gaceta Parlamentaria, 2013).

Since 1972, educational policies were suggested for the promotion of science and technology in matters of aquaculture, originating the creation of various schools from the basic to the higher level, among which the following stand out: the General Direction of Fishing Technological Education, which established 30 secondary schools to train students in fishing and aquaculture techniques, adding as research centers the Federal Electricity Commission, whose organization established the “Benito Juárez” breeding station in Malpaso, Chiapas; the National Autonomous University of Mexico carried out research in the Biology Institute located in the facilities in Mexico City, and since 1973 used its Center of Sea Science and Limnology in the state of Mazatlán, Sinaloa; the National Polytechnic Institute carried out research on aquatic animals, especially in ecology; the Technological Institute of Higher Studies in Monterrey built the Sea Sciences School and Food Technology, in Guaymas, Sonora, with shrimp breeding being one of the main fields of study; the Higher School of Marine Sciences devotes its research to oceanography and marine biology; the University of Sonora established a shrimp hatchery in Puerto Peñasco, among others (FAO, 1974).

In 1976 the Autonomous Fishing Department was constituted, unifying the Sub-ministry of Fishing with the Direction of Aquaculture and the General Direction of Ejido Fishing Development, which served as support for the creation of aquaculture centers destined to the production of young, seeds or post-larvae, among which the ones in the state of Veracruz stood out, such as: Los Amates, in Tlacotalpan; La Tortuga (1976), in Pánuco; Tebanca (1976) and Sontecomapan (1978), in Catemaco; and Matzinga (1979), in the municipality of Orizaba (Rangel-López et al., 2014).

These aquaculture centers were created as one of the strategies for productive development in the presidential period of José López Portillo, defined in the National Fishing Development Plan (1977), which in turn originated the Aquaculture Program to develop this activity (Juárez-Palacios, 1987), having as consequence another institutional transformation in this sector. In 1981 the Ministry of Fishing was created and, according to the reforms of the Organic Law of the Federal Public Administration (1982), it was determined that aquaculture is a priority activity that contributes to the capture of currencies and the aiding of regional development (SAGARPA-FAO, 2006). In addition, with the objective of promoting economic and social development generated by the fishing and aquaculture activities, public trusts were created such as: Trust for the Prevention and Control of Waters and Aquatic Fauna Development; Unique Trust for the Development of Aquatic Fauna and Flora; Trust for Credit Granting in favor of Fishing Cooperatives for the Acquisition of Shrimp Boats; Trust for Fishing Research and Education; and National Trust for Cooperative Fishing Promotion (DOF, 1979). However, this accelerated development and the scarce level of technological development had a limited impact on the growth of the aquaculture activity, with results below the expectations (CONAPESCA, 2014). These trends of the Mexican government reaffirm the importance of aquaculture, considering the need to suggest structural changes in economic, productive and educational policies for the development of this sector.

Therefore, it has been proven that, historically, aquaculture has been ruled under these three economic models by seven government institutions, among which there are ministries, legal departments, commissions, directions and research institutes, and which due to the legal nature that each of them cover, have different faculties and attributions, in addition to pursuing different goals and objectives, which have originated institutional instability resulting in the deficient development of this productive sector (Table 2).

Table 2 Normative and institutional transformation of aquaculture in Mexico, from the "Imports-substitution industrialization" to the "Neoliberal" economic models. 

Presidente Año Transformación normativa e institucional Objetivo
Modelo económico "Industrialización por Sustitución de Importaciones"
Manuel Ávila Camacho 1943 Dirección General de Pesca e Industrias Conexas, dependiente de la SEMAR Desarrollar, fomentar, proteger y controlar la producción de flora y fauna.
1946 Dirección de Lagunas y Litorales, dependiente de la Secretaría de Recursos Hidráulicos Desarrollar la actividad acuícola.
Miguel Alemán Valdés 1950 Ley de Pesca de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos Darle carácter científico a la actividad acuícola.
1950 Comisión para el Fomento de la Piscicultura Rural Recuperar y capitalizar los datos empíricos, para dar comienzo a la planificación de la actividad acuícola en México.
Adolfo López Mateos 1959 Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Biológico Pesqueras (Departamento de piscicultura, ostricultura y otras biotecnias) Fomentar el desarrollo de la piscicultura rural.
Modelo económico "Desarrollo Compartido"
Luis Echeverría Álvarez 1971 Subsecretaría de Pesca Ley de Aguas de Propiedad Nacional Se considera de utilidad pública el establecimiento de Distritos Acuícolas.
1976 Departamento Autónomo de Pesca Alcanzar un óptimo aprovechamiento y explotación de los recursos pesqueros del país.
Modelo económico "Crecimiento Económico Acelerado"
José López Portillo y Pacheco 1977 Plan Nacional de Desarrollo Pesquero Reconocer a la acuacultura como una actividad productiva generadora de alimentos, empleo y divisas.
1981 Secretaría de Pesca La acuacultura como actividad prioritaria que contribuye a la captación de divisas y favorecería al desarrollo regional.

Source: authors' elaboration.

Aquaculture under the Neoliberal economic model

The Neoliberal economic model becomes present during the presidential period of Miguel de la Madrid, who was known for applying austerity policies and set the bases for macroeconomic reforms (Cámara de Diputados, 2014); consequently, multiple legal reforms were originated, allowing private investment to define the new path of the productive sectors (Table 3).

Table 3 Normative and institutional transformation of aquaculture in Mexico under the "Neoliberal" economic model (1986-2017). 

Presidente Año Transformación normativa e institucional Objetivo
Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado 1986 Ley Federal de Pesca Establecer servicios de investigación en genética, nutrición, sanidad y extensionismo.
Carlos Salinas de Gortari 1994 Se desintegra la Secretaría de Pesca y forma parte de la SEMARNAP Impulsar de manera conjunta al sector productivo.
Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León 1999 Reglamento de la Ley de Pesca Reglamentar la Ley de Pesca.
Vicente Fox Quesada 2000 Creación de la CONAPESCA e INAPESCA Proponer y coordinar la Política Nacional, investigación científica y tecnológica de la flora
Felipe Calderón Hinojosa 2007 Ley General de Pesca y Acuacultura Sustentables Regular la actividad pesquera y acuícola.
Enrique Peña Nieto 2017 Instituto Nacional de Pesca y Acuacultura Se reconoce oficialmente a la acuacultura y en particular la maricultura, como la actividad que permitirá lograr el abasto de proteína a nivel mundial en un futuro.

Source: authors' elaboration.

The first legislative change in matters of aquaculture and fishing took place in 1986, through the issuance of the Federal Fishing Law and, according to Article 71, aquaculture was defined as: “…the cultivation of aquatic flora and fauna species in continental, interior waters, territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone, and the bodies of water that are built…”. In addition, research services were established in genetics, nutrition, safety and extension work in aquaculture matters through the support of cooperative societies for the development of some cultivation phases, thus seeking the promotion and protection of foreign trade (Arredondo-Figueroa and Lozano-García, 2003). Here the economic policy prioritized financial capital, leaving aside the productive sector. Therefore, aquaculture was one of the many productive sectors that depended on private companies for their development (Chabat, 1990), harming the most vulnerable classes of the country, fostering national economic dependency, indiscriminate re-privatization and low transparency, as well as accepting foreign investment without compliance to the rules (Aburto-Martínez, 2005).

Under this logic, in 1992 the Federal Fishing Law was reformed, defining that the Ministry of Fishing would have the function of regulating the introduction of aquatic flora and fauna species into bodies of water of federal jurisdiction, and resulted in the elimination of the “reserved species policy”, not only for aquaculture cultivation but also for capture (Delgado de Cantú, 2003). In addition, the bases were established for the expedition of concessions and permits of up to 50 years, which was a defining factor for the transformation of aquaculture through private investment (OCDE, 2006). Following the trend of modernizing the Mexican economy, in 1994, during the presidential period of Salinas de Gortari, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, and in order to establish macroeconomic stability the process of restructuring laws and regulations for agriculture and livestock activities had to continue (Monroy-Martínez, 2003), which were directed at the reduction of the existing restrictions on the acquisition, operation, exploitation and commercialization of raw materials, with the aim of private investment being able to operate more freely (Lustig, 1994). This type of measures increased production; in 1994 the total aquaculture and fishing production was 1 260 019 t (CONAPESCA, 2011).

In 1996, under President Ernesto Zedillo, through the Deregulatory Agreement of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, another normative change was carried out in benefit of foreign investment, allowing the appropriation of real estate located in the restricted zone destined to the performance of productive activities (Zepeda-Bustos, 2012). Likewise, institutional changes were performed in aquaculture; from being zoned in 1984 to the Ministry of Fishing, it disintegrated in 1994 and went on to become part of the Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resources and Fishing, and within it the General Direction of Aquaculture was constituted, whose attributions were to promote and develop this productive sector (Gaceta Parlamentaria, 2013). With these reforms new strategies for the development of aquaculture activity were implemented, reaching in 1999 a total fishing and aquaculture production of 1 286 107 t (CONAPESCA, 2011).

However, these aquaculture policy strategies had negative effects in environmental matters, since, with the intention of adapting to the requirements of the private sector and thus increasing the national economy, the Mexican government opted for using all types of bodies of water, among them estuaries, mangroves and wetlands, generating a contribution of nutrients and contaminants to the bodies of water and propagating diseases (Calderón et al., 2009). In turn, it prioritized the development of the intensive system (Espinosa-Plascencia and Bermúdez-Almada, 2011), without considering that to the extent that the productive system intensifies, a higher amount of inputs and raw materials are used, whose compounds can enter the food chain with a possible bioaccumulation, causing damage in the long term (Rodríguez-Valencia et al., 2010). In addition, the species with highest commercial value were considered, introducing more than 50 % and some exotic ones, and generating an invasion on the bodies of water, as in the case of tilapia, which nowadays is the most extended species globally (FAO, 2014); with this, the need emerged to develop policies focused on actions that tend to decrease the negative impact derived from this activity through the implementation of biosafety procedures and measures in the production that do not affect the health of the consumers or degrade the environment (Espinosa-Plascencia and Bermúdez-Almada, 2011). However, these policies for the sustainable development of aquaculture were not clearly established or coordinated by the Federal Public Administration.

In the six-year presidential period of Vicente Fox, new challenges were set out for the development of the fishing and aquaculture sector, among them the following stood out: defining public policies to exploit resources in a sustainable way; promoting the increase in economic and social profitability; granting and fostering legal certainty in the development of the sector; involving the participating sectors in the research, optimizing the commercial exploitation of fishing and aquaculture products (DOF, 2001). As a result, in 2000 it was decided to change the institutional structure of the aquaculture and fishing sector, which consisted in the creation of the National Commission for Aquaculture and Fishing (Comisión Nacional de Acuacultura y Pesca, CONAPESCA), as well as the National Fishing Institute (Instituto Nacional de Pesca, INAPESCA), as decentralized organs of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Production, Rural Development, Fishing and Food (Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación, SAGARPA), whose main attributions are proposing and coordinating the national policy to foster, advice, promote investment projects; defining the zones for capture and breeding for fishing and aquaculture, while the second is in charge of the rational and sustainable use of fishing and aquatic resources; as well as the technological research of marine flora and fauna (Cifuentes-Lemus and Cupul-Magaña, 2002). This institutional modification allowed concentrating the level of decision in a single centralized organization, supported by its own dependencies to improve the productivity, profitability and competitiveness of this sector (CONAPESCA, 2014).

Likewise, in 2001, according to the National Development Plan 2001-2006, it was determined that the aquaculture and fishing sector could attract socioeconomic benefits, among which the generation of new sources of employment stands out, as well as the contribution to food security (DOF, 2001); setting out the development strategies, the Special Concurring Program for Sustainable Rural Development was issued, considering the aquaculture and fishing sector as one of the priority activities (DOF, 2002). The influence of this policy for the development of the aquaculture and fishing sector brought benefits reflected in 2001, since a production of 1´520,938 t was reached, where aquaculture contributed 12.9 %, attaining it through breeding 61 species, of which 40 are native and 21 are exotic; the infrastructure reached 1,963 units, classified into five categories: canals, pens, artisanal or coated ponds, floating structures and depth trays (FAO, 2005).

Later, in 2003, aquaculture and fishing were integrated into the strategy of the already existing program, “Alliance for the Farmland”, where the objective was to promote and foster the integral development through the rational and sustainable exploitation of fishing and aquaculture resources, with the purpose of increasing the quality of life of the producers, their families and the communities, whose most representative action lines are: establishing productive projects; creating a plan for the activity; providing basic infrastructure of common use and in agreement with federal entities, and rural aquaculture (DOF, 2003). However, these policies of support to the aquaculture and fishing sector didn’t achieve the objective set out, since from 2003 to 2007 aquaculture and fishing production decreased at an annual rate of 1.4 %; in 2003 the production was 1 600 000 t, decreasing to 1 350 000 t for the year 2007 (CONAPESCA, 2007).

Despite the potential that Mexico has for the development of the aquaculture sector, in the last twenty years this activity had an annual growth of scarcely 1.9 % (Figure 1; CONAPESCA, 2013). In contrast, at the global level, and for this same period, the annual growth rate of aquaculture was close to 8 % (FAO, 2016).

Source: CONAPESCA (2013).

Figure 1 Volume of national aquaculture and fishing production, period 1991-2013. 

Consequently, the need to create a legal code capable of fostering and managing the exploitation of fishing and aquaculture resources arose; that is why in 2007, under President Felipe Calderón, the General Law of Sustainable Fishing and Aquaculture (Ley General de Pesca y Acuacultura Sustentables, LGPAS) was issued. One of the main objectives of this law is the integral management and sustainable exploitation of fishing and aquaculture, considering the social, technological, productive, biological and environmental aspects (DOF, 2007).

This new legal code, still in force, although it ordered in “Transitory Article Six” the issuance of its own Regulations in a period no longer than six months since the LGPAS went into force, has not been elaborated after ten years; and, as a result, the Regulations of the Federal Fishing Law are applied improperly, since its Law has been repealed, thus suppressing its validity and the obligatory nature of its compliance (Anguiano-Paniagua, 1995); that is, these regulations lack validity (De Silva-Gutiérrez, 2009), they lost recognition. Consequently, the application of these regulations is in breach of the guarantee of legal safety that is stipulated in Article 14 of the Political Constitution of the Mexican United States, where it is established that: “no law will have retroactive effect in detriment to any person”; violating the principle of non-retroactive nature (Carbajal, 2002), and thus resulting in a normative deficiency that should be compensated by the Federal Public Administration, in agreement with the LGPAS, establishing the specific guidelines for the implementation of the aquaculture and fishing activities.

Likewise, according to the National Development Plan of Felipe Calderón’s Administration, the problem of the aquaculture and fishing sector was concentrated primarily in the backwardness of the infrastructure, which is why programs focused on the following three specific lines were established: modernization and competitiveness; energetic supports; and sustainability of fishing and aquaculture resources (PND, 2007).

Among the most representative policies and programs of this six-year period, the following stand out:

a) The “Project of Electric Infrastructure for Aquatic Zones” (Proyecto de Infraestructura Eléctrica para Zonas Acuícolas, PIEZA), whose objective was to reconvert energetically the aquaculture activity, substituting the use of diesel for electric energy to ease the implementation of better practices for production and sanitary control.

b) Within the framework of the programs implemented by CONAPESCA there are the “Program of Aquaculture and Fishing, Alliance for the Farmland, 2007” and “Acquisition of Productive Assets, 2008-2010”, whose objectives were to manage federal resources for the execution in concurrence with the state and municipal governments, for infrastructure, equipment and biological inputs destined to fishing and aquaculture.

c) The “Special Energy Program for the Farmland” in matters of electric energy for aquatic use; in 2011, discounts were assigned through SAGARPA CONAPESCA of up to 50 %, applied on the IVA (value-added tax) of electric energy invoicing, benefitting 319 aquaculture facilities in 29 states of the country.

d) In matters of science and technology, 44 agreements were established with higher education institutions, research centers and producers, where actions were implemented to consolidate biotechnological models susceptible to transference and application at the commercial level to favor the competitiveness and sustainability of the aquaculture production units, specializing in marine fish, such as California sole, totoaba, golden grouper, jack mackerel, blowfish and snapper, shellfish, mollusks and other marine invertebrates like shrimp, abalone, generous clam, octopus and sea urchin, as well as fresh water fish, particularly catfish, tilapia and trout. As a result of these policies for the development of the aquaculture and fishing sector, a production of 1 660 000 t was obtained (CONAPESCA, 2012).

The plans and strategies for the aquaculture and fishing sector described in the National Development Plan (2013) of the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto are focused on two lines of action consisting in the increase of productivity in a sustainable manner, as well as the increase in income of the population devoted to this sector (PND, 2013). To develop these action lines, the participation and access to credit and discount granted by the Trusts Fund for Rural Development (Fideicomiso Instituido en Relación con la Agricultura, FIRA) through productive financing projects such as the Special Fund for Technical Assistance and Guarantee for Agriculture and Livestock Credits (Fondo Especial de Asistencia Técnica y Garantía para Créditos Agropecuarios, FEGA) and Fund for the Guarantee and Promotion of Fishing Activities (Fondo de Garantía y Fomento para las Actividades Pesqueras, FOPESCA) have allowed establishing improvements in the productivity and profitability of the aquaculture activity consisting in providing advice, training and technology transfer; however, in order to gain access to these projects, it is an essential requirement that the Aquaculture Production Units are legally established and performing under the laws that regulate this sector (FIRA, 2014).

The basic requirements to perform the aquaculture activity formally are:

a) The Federal Contributors’ Registry (Registro Federal del Contribuyente, RFC), whose objective is to monitor and ensure the compliance to fiscal obligations to charge taxes, contributions for improvements, rights, products and federal exploitation, originated by the activity (Rodríguez-Mejía, 2003).

b) The National Fishing and Aquaculture Registry (Registro Nacional de Pesca y Acuacultura, RNPA), which is an instrument of public nature issued by the National Aquaculture and Fishing Commission (Comisión Nacional de Acuacultura y Pesca, CONAPESCA) that has the objective of registering and updating the information related to aquatic activity as something mandatory (CONAPESCA, 2015).

c) The concession or permit issued by the National Water Commission (Comisión Nacional del Agua, CONAGUA) for the exploitation or use of national waters, as well as the discharge of residual waters (CONAGUA, 2015).

d) The manifest or exemption of Environmental Impact (Impacto Ambiental, MIA), which consists in the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, SEMARNAT) evaluating and establishing the conditions which producers should fulfill for the construction and operation of aquatic farms; the production of post-larvae or seed; the sowing of exotic species, hybrids and transgenic varieties, among others (SEMARNAT, 2015).

As consequence, the new aquaculture legal code serves as one of the main limitations for the development of this agriculture and livestock sector, since it only benefits high-income producers who have registries, permits, concessions and evaluations -representing only 21 % of all the producers in the aquaculture activity-, leaving aside the low-income producers who do not have the economic, educational and administrative capacity to comply with the legislation established (SAGARPA, 2009). In 2014 there was a total production of 1 751 952 t, to which the aquaculture activity contributed only 325 000 t, with the main species farmed being: sea bream, trout, oyster, carp and shrimp (SAGARPA, 2015).

This is why the Federal Public Administration places some of the legal deficiencies in the aquaculture sector and, with the aim of providing greater legal certainty, reforms the Law of National Waters, changing from eighth to fifth place the order of preference in water uses for the concession and allotment of the exploitation or use of national waters, superficial or underground, applicable in normal situations. In addition, it defines water use as: “the exploitation of passage of national waters in the whole of activities directed at controlled reproduction, pre-fattening and fattening of flora and fauna species performed in national waters, through breeding or growing techniques that are susceptible to commercial, ornamental or recreational use” (DOF, 2016). This legal change fosters the strengthening of aquaculture, recognizing it as a strategic activity, and achieving with this a reduction of the payment of fees for rights over water.

Another one of the changes in favor of aquaculture emerged on June 19, 2017, through another modification, now institutional, since INAPESCA - formerly National Fishing Institute - changed name to “National Institute of Fishing and Aquaculture”, order by which recognition is given to aquaculture and particularly mariculture as the activity that allows achieving the protein supply at the global level in the future (DOF, 2017). This institutional advancement has the objective of fostering scientific research and technology development in one of the productive sectors with highest potential in Mexico, in order to contribute to sustainability in regional development, economic growth and food sovereignty, expecting for this new structural modification to have stability and for the objectives set out to be given continuity.

In sum, the normative and institutional evolution of aquaculture in Mexico was characterized by constant changes in Public Administration, generating instability in the legal system of this sector and, as a result, no follow-up or continuity takes place in the long run for the development of the activity. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCDE, 2010), the legislation and institutional stability of the leading countries in aquatic production have been defining for their development (Delgado de Cantú, 2003; OCDE, 2010). Therefore, to cover the growing demand of products of aquatic origin at the global, national and state level, could only be accomplished through the implementation of public policies which, based on a fair and equitable legal and normative framework, promote its healthy growth (Rosegrant et al., 2001; Pillay and Kutty, 2010; OCDE-FAO, 2012). Therefore, it is advisable that the Mexican government gives continuity to policies, as well as the adaptation of the aquaculture legal system to the leading countries’ guidelines, which recognize that the development of this sector depends on the institutional and normative stability, and that it responds to the demands from society (Arnason et al., 2009; Asche, 2011), even more so when the activity is considered strategic to achieve food sovereignty (Allison, 2011; Allison et al., 2012), since on the contrary it would continue to limit the competitive and productive development of the sector.


Aquatic activity is a strategic activity for the socioeconomic development of the country; however, in the different stages of the Federal Public Administration, economic policy axes were consolidated directed basically by four economic models: “Imports-substitution industrialization”, “Shared development”, “Accelerated economic growth”, and “Neoliberal”; and which due to their essence, each implied changes in their organization, administration and legislation, causing institutional instability, since historically aquaculture has been ruled by more than 15 government institutions, among them ministries, legal departments, commissions, directions and research institutions, causing voids and scarce continuity in the development policies of this productive sector.

Likewise, the legal code of aquaculture since its beginnings has been linked to fishing, with the legal treatment that has been made since the expedition of the first “Fishing Law” (1925) to the “General Law for Sustainable Fishing and Aquaculture” (2007) becoming evident; therefore, it is necessary to differentiate these two sectors, since their origin, essence and foundation are different. Since fishing is an extractive activity based on the exploitation of a natural resource, aquaculture responds to a productive precept, based on the management of biological, economic and social capital.

Therefore, it is necessary for the Federal Public Administration to stabilize the activity by legislating, specific and punctually for aquaculture, as an activity independent of the fishing activity, in search for the increase of productivity and sustainability; for the state governments to legislate with the same principle; and for policies to be given continuity, beyond the periods of the governments in office, in favor of the development of the aquaculture sector.

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Received: January 2016; Accepted: August 2017

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