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Revista mexicana de ciencias agrícolas

versão impressa ISSN 2007-0934

Rev. Mex. Cienc. Agríc vol.7 no.8 Texcoco Nov./Dez. 2016



The impact of neoliberalism in the Mexican fishing industry

Luis Daniel Magadán Revelo1  § 

Alonso Aguilar Ibarra2 

Miguel Jorge Escalona Maurice1 

1Colegio de Postgraduados- Campus Montecillo, Carretera México-Texcoco Km. 36.5, Montecillo, Texcoco, Edo de México, CP. 56230. (;

2Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas- UNAM. Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad de la Investigación en Humanidades, Ciudad Universitaria, CP. 04510, México, D. F.


Neoliberalism in Mexico has been established as a model for world domination, in which free market economy is projected over state interventionism. By adopting such regime the Mexican state and its organizational base structure has been gradually and unseasonably affected by marked changes in institutional, economic, political and social relationships. This essay raises first, an outline of what is also called “exploiter secondary model” and like this have been established historically in the social reality of Mexicans; unraveling social cohesion and generating changes in cultural and identity patterns increasing individualism and free competition from members of Mexican society. As second point, institutional research, economic and organizational implications that the incursion to free market has generated in fisheries in Mexico are addressed. How through dismantling the State and with the help of it, have been adopted disincorporation policies causing the disappearance of public institutions and credit support giving economic and organizational support to the fishing industry and impacting directly in the way of life from rural communities of fishing communities; reforming thereby productive patterns and community linkage.

Keywords: fisheries; institutions; neoliberal model; organization; policy; state


El neoliberalismo en México se ha instaurado como un modelo de dominación mundial, en el que la libre economía de mercado se proyecta por sobre el intervencionismo estatal. Al adoptar dicho régimen el Estado mexicano y su estructura organizacional de base se han visto afectados paulatina e intempestivamente por marcados cambios en las relaciones institucionales, políticas, económicas y sociales. En el presente ensayo se plantea, en primer lugar, un esbozo de lo que es el también llamado “modelo secundario explotador” y como éste se ha instaurado históricamente en la realidad social de los mexicanos. Desarticulando la cohesión social y generando cambios en los patrones culturales e identitarios, acrecentando el individualismo y la libre competencia de los miembros de la sociedad mexicana. Como segundo punto se abordan las implicaciones institucionales de investigación, económicas y organizacionales que la incursión al libre mercado ha generado en el sector pesquero en México. Cómo mediante la desarticulación del Estado y con ayuda del mismo, se han aprobado políticas de desincorporación provocando la desaparición de las instituciones paraestatales y de apoyo crediticio que daban sustento económico y organizacional a la actividad pesquera e impactando de manera directa en el modo de vida de las comunidades rurales de los ejidos pesqueros. Reformando con ello sus patrones productivos y de vínculo comunitario.

Palabras clave: modelo neoliberal; estado; instituciones; organización; política; pesquerías


Neoliberalism in Mexico

The neoliberal model has established itself as the hegemonic system of domination. It is therefore a dominant economic policy proposing free market as the best tool to solve the distribution problems and optimal use of natural resources through the incorporation of capital from the private sector (Aguilar Ibarra, Reid, and Thorpe, 2000a; Mansfield, 2004; Calva, 2007). At international level it has proven to be the main predator of nature and culture that holds the identity of any organization and resource that exists on the planet.

Neoliberalism, as world governing model has emerged under the paradigm of overexploitation. The idea of progress and development has been imbued in the practice of free market, which focuses its leanings towards the export of manufactured goods.

With neoliberal practices the State went on to restructure as the guiding axis, based on policies that will allow market liberalization, will encourage foreign investment and thus commercial self-regulation of economic conditions of society. Neoliberal theory suggests that politics involved in economic activity only interferes with the natural course of economic processes (Mansfield, 2004). Under this paradigm state participation has been relegated, sales decision and mainly of consumption remains in the hands of free capital and people or companies who hold it.

The also called “secondary exploiter” model carries with it a fundamental change with relation to the previous model of import substitution and “is the question that marginalizes the vast majority of the population from economic channels” (Rubio Vega, 2000). Being the primary sector the most affected with the interaction of the growing neoliberal model. By increasing the export momentum in developed countries, resolving domestic production and ensuring self-supply, developing countries are in the copious need to invest their capital in the purchase of cheap goods that are inserted into the trade flow, leaving in the past national production.

Governments have made modernity a target to achieve without measuring social and environmental costs that are being paid already. Have achieved the dream of the industrial era and not in few occasions have managed to accentuate social inequalities (Villamar et al., 2007).

Gradual dismantling of the State has left the control of social and political changes to “good judgment” of capitalist enterprise. “The neoliberal doctrine is deeply opposed to theories that defended state intervention” (Harvey, 2007) and with it the great neoliberal businessmen got the hegemonic control of the exploitation process. “Neoliberal theorists reject social property, arguing that displaces private investment, absorbing public spending and generates corruption practices” (Aguilar Ibarra et al., 2000a) argument based on political activity from the ruling class, but when launched into practice brought with it great social imbalances in which State capacity as regulator no longer has interference.“The liberalization and reduction of state presence in economy would allow full use of the opportunities offered by globalization, by promoting more efficient allocation of productive resources” (Calva, 2007).

The historical period where Mexican political reforms adopt a neoliberal logic is present during the administrative term of President Miguel de la Madrid (1982-1988), consolidated within the government period of Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) where neoliberalism conditions limit government action in the economic sector and allow macroeconomic reforms to settle in the political-legal framework of our country (Calva, 2004; Mumme, 2007; Evans et al., 2011) allowing private investment to be established in productive sectors for the extraction of raw materials.

To achieve disintegration of institutions the State itself was subject to the law, generating an agreement and subsequently consolidated as federal decree; so this is how the Intersectoral Disincorporation Commission stands under the mandate of President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon. Such agreement allows the transformation of a protectionist welfare State to a State at the service of the neoliberal model, not regulating its action and its link to productive systems. In the Official Journal of the Nation reads: “it is required further develop of a selective disincorporation process through the sale of public entities or its assets susceptible to be used as economic units for productive purposes, owned by the Federation or of the same entities” (“Agreement that establishes the Intersectoral Disincorporation Commission”, 1995) thus manifesting a paradoxical character in which the immersion of the neoliberal model into the state needs, the state itself, creates input mechanisms for later and gradually unlinking their acts in economic processes. This process, as described above, brings out to light a new ruling class, the class “business bureaucratic” on the one hand are the state leaders of political and social control and at the same time big businessman with economic capacity to conduct the economic flow of the country.

So then, the neoliberal model is structured through a historical-political process that funded the basis for the incorporation of private economies to the public sector. Within achieved goals it is discerned the investment in technology matter which came to replace the “backward and rudimentary” way to produce for a more agile and accurate.

The financial regime of the Mexican nation held the economic standards proposed by the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) proposing: a) state deregulation of trade; b) free currency market; and c) the creation of government agencies specialized in product export; leaving forgotten the industrialization promotion that characterized Mexico in years prior to the neoliberal proposal (Aguilar Ibarra et al., 2000a; Alonso, 2003; Calva et al., 2004). The import substitution model that generated the so-called “Mexican miracle” was politically reformed towards a model of foreign trade where the sale of natural resources is the best presentation of Mexican economy.

The impact on fisheries sector

The fisheries sector is considered important within the economic framework of developing countries (FAO, 2012). Fisheries provide a significant source of employment for communities near the coast as well as an excellent source of food, so that, when considered as an important part of the productive economy can help to ensure food sovereignty to nations (Aguilar et al., 2000b; Camada de Diputados del H. Congreso de la Unión, 2007; Aguilar et al., 2013).

It was during the government of Luis Echeverria (1970-1976) that the last great boost to the fisheries sector was established at national level (Espinoza et al., 2011), in 1972 the Undersecretary of Fisheries (SEPESCA) and the federal law of fisheries promotion that confer the fishing rights only and exclusively to civil organizations known as Fish Production Cooperative Societies (SCPP) was created. The legislative movement of 1972 strengthened the fishing cooperative sector causing that, for lack of economic alternatives in other sectors, a wave of farmers (mainly those living near the coast) reconverted their productive efforts towards the exploitation of marine resources under a new organizational form known as cooperative fishery production (Aguilar Ibarra et al., 2000b; Villamar Calderon et al., 2007; Valenzuela, 2012).

Unfortunately the conforming process of the neoliberal State opened the door to an imbalance in the extractive activity of fishing communities bringing legislative changes that do not meet the specific needs of the fisheries sector (Thorpe et al., 2000). The penetration of capitalism in these communities has generated a series of transformations, diversifying the work process in its technical and social dimension, generating changes in the grouping of fishermen, in production relations and class alliances in the sector (Delgado, 2013).

Fishing as extractive and random activity considers a combination of factors; the sea as work object (random medium not privatized), the work process as a combination of technical tools (investment in infrastructure and fishing gear), labor of the fishermen themselves and management and legality by the State. However, it is from the neoliberal onslaught, which occurred in early 80s from last century, that fishing organization moved from a process of cooperative domain to private investment control (Aguilar et al., 2000b; Thorpe et al., 2000; Young, 2001; Espinoza y Magadán et al., 2010).

With the changes forged by more than 30 years of neoliberalism in Mexico the state's role as guiding principle of the cooperative organization has diminished in its activity. Financially the collapse of the Mexican peso in 1982 enabled the fisheries sector to increase its problems, since economic solvency of the population declined sharply and working tools used by the productive sector increased their price; causing the Mexican fisheries sector to decline investment; giving way to the expectant private initiative to initiate capital investment in Mexican territory “then neoliberal economic model (NEM) announced not only the domain of large ships in the fleet, but also a concentration of ownership from the sector” (Thorpe et al., 2000), whereas high value fisheries could be extracted and taken over by larger fleets and technologically better equipped that require of a large investment for operation.

Public and institutional disinstitution

State interference stagnated since allowing for constitutional and institutional restructuring for market liberalization, it was in the need to move away from the control mechanisms that would allow ownership and work of fisheries resources. This is confirmed in the disintegration suffered by institutions devoted to the fisheries sector during the government of Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León (1994-200), the best example of this is the reduction in fisheries management hierarchy allocated before at the hierarchical level from SEPESCA (Ministry of Fisheries) incorporating it to SEMARNAP (Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries) with the aim of making environmental policy (Aguilar et al., 2005; Santinelli, 2009) all developments before achieved in production fisheries matter were lost.

However during the presidency of Vicente Fox Quezada (2000-2006) management of fishery resources came to the hierarchical level from CONAPESCA (National Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture) and if this was not enough later the institutional integration of the state generated an exacerbated readjustment subordinating fishing activities to SAGARPA (Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food), leaving with this, decision making of primary activity in a single centralized body.

Today the General Law on Fishing and Sustainable Aquaculture (LGPAS) in force since 2007 under President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa (2006-2012), repealed the law issued in 1992, and has as objective “regulate, promote and manage the use of fisheries and aquaculture resources in the country and the areas over which the nation exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction (...) [establishing] the basis for the exercise of the powers corresponding to the federation, the states and municipalities, under the principle of concurrence and with the participation of fishery producers” (Camara de Diputados del H. Congreso de la Union, 2007).

The delay in publication of the regulation has caused oblivion of a fundamental part of the law: the creation of the Mexican Fund for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (PROMAR) (Panorama Acuícola, 2010), which would be responsible for linking the federal financial system to the sector and to date (2015) has not been implemented, among its many activities would be responsible for:

Also scientific and research institution have suffered the brunt of neoliberal reforms. The regulator and promoter organization of fisheries and aquaculture research today is the National Fisheries Institute (INAPESCA) which presents serious problems.

“It has been proposed to decentralize INAPESCA and turn it into a Public Research Center, to position it in the fisheries research market as specialized consultancy that provides specific advice to stakeholders in the fisheries sector, in direct competition with other research institutions and even with consulting companies” (Villamar et al., 2007). Again, the competitive nature is present, state institutions are immersed in the idea survival of the strongest, causing in large proportion that the scientific effort and development is guided by the neoliberal concept of free competition.

As an argument for deregulation in research matters, productive capitalist manifestations and exacerbated gain are pointed out, action that create a distortion of natureenvironment and the same human being; causing serious environmental damage; since research is not perceived as a promoter of sustainable development process but as an extraction entity natural resources by survival of the strongest.

Farewell to public institutions

However neoliberal onslaughts to fisheries sector do not stay in the field of organizational and public policy. Marketing of fishery products was fragmented when the parastatal Mexican Fishery Products (PROPEMEX) dissolved due to a number of economic accidents. In 1982 the Mexican tuna fleet rivaled the American fleet. The policy adopted by the US government evolved into in a discriminatory embargo on Mexican tuna products, such policy was suggested by the economic analysis group from the US government and justified environmentally by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) (Thorpe and Bennett, 2001) requesting the cessation of bycatch of dolphins by the Mexican tuna fleet. The borders were closed and product marketing was channeled entirely to the domestic market with the help of the parastatal (PROPEMEX) who bought the product from cooperatives and private sector at very similar prices offered in the US; however, this caused the lack of liquidity of the parastatal (Aguilar et al., 2000b) and therefore its alienation.

So in 2005 “the sale of the parastatal Ocean Garden to Mexican companies Granjas Aqua, Acuicola Boca and Grupo Industrial Pesquero Mexicano was agreed” (Posadas 2005). The parastatal Ocean Garden had among its main actions the task of concentrating fishery production in large storage centers, provide training for manufacturing and packaging to members of the cooperatives, provide credit for the purchase of basic infrastructure for the preservation of the product and provide control to product prices obtained by offering the goods, thus supplying the domestic market and in the main case, export.


In the organization field, cooperatives had a strong transformation and change process; which in earlier times appeared as a social organization with strong cooperative relationship between partners, today and thanks to increased competition it is shown as an individualistic process. The objectives of being organized into cooperatives, obey to an instinct of economic survival, the main axes that move fishermen to become part of cooperatives are the appropriation of incentives and resources that can only obtain for being an active members of a cooperative. “To be cooperative has lost transcendental inspiration with which the movement was conceived and has adopted new ways that make it, in the eyes of the members themselves, as an economic enterprise” (Espinoza and Magadan, 2010). The cooperative individual has left aside the human formative character that must have at its center the cooperative movement.

While the property of cooperatives is defined by a members corporation managed by themselves, within the cooperative relations are defined in terms of ownership, it is not easily distinguished the form and content of real and formal property rights. Stakeholders can own infrastructure and work tools and work as work bosses, creating a relationship of class struggle (Delgado, 2013). Have been generated crucial elements to say that cooperative is no longer a community movement of mutual support and labor socialization, but rather is perceived as a capitalist enterprise from the primary sector controlled by economic power relations.

In the period between 1990-1994 fisheries production cooperatives were perceived as inefficient and the State took away the support, action that would directly affect the organization causing its collapse (Aguilar et al., 2000b). In 1992 the reform to the article 27 of the Constitution allowed the privatization of the form of community tenure and among other things took off the historical exclusive fishing rights to cooperatives replacing it by a system of licenses and permits to serve the public interests being settled in the fisheries Act of the same year.

This causes that within fishing communities a new social group to emerge, called free fishermen: people lacking technique, technology and, most importantly, permission to develop fishing activities, producers who do not use the tools and gear suitable for the protection of maritime fishing products and create an imbalance in product price (Young, 2001; Espinoza and Magadan, 2010; Espinoza et al., 2011).

Social classes within fishing communities are then stratified into three major categories: 1) the business class who are holding economic control of fishing cooperatives; 2) average stakeholders from the cooperative who have fishing permit but lack the capital needed to generate higher production and improvements in the purchase of its consumption products; and 3) free fishermen who lack the benefit of capital investment and are deregulated from legal framework. The distribution of wealth is unequal and has a direct impact on economic development and social relationship of fishing communities, thereby generating great economic abysm between one and another individual, causing fierce competition that exposes and as primary need the implementation of the capitalist system in its neoliberal phase.

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Received: March 2016; Accepted: May 2016

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