Anglers aren’t the only ones after fish in this rich habitat. The flats are vast, and it’s easy for poachers to slip through undetected. Periodically, fishermen from other towns come to Xcalak and set up illegal nets. Jesse Colton, owner of Xflats lodge, recently heard from a couple guides that confronted poachers, taking down their nets and running them off—but not before they had taken quite a few permit and bones.

Protecting the flats requires a community effort, but it wasn’t always a priority for the locals. Through education, however, locals learned that the fish on the flats are worth far more alive than dead, and that fly fishing, not net fishing, is the path to sustainable prosperity.

Guides and their families have an ownership stake in the health of their local fishery. Jesse doesn’t own the boats or pay the salaries of the guides. Instead, guides own their own pangas and are hired by the lodge’s guests. The flats depend on these locals for protection, just as these locals depend on the flats for their livelihoods.

To begin to better understand the impacts of Illegal and unstainable fishing, we have teamed up with the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and University of Alabama professor, Michael Steinberg. Steinberg has been doing GIS satellite mapping for several years and then executing “ground truthing” expeditions to further clarify what satellites are seeing. These efforts provide an important baseline set of data that will serve as a benchmark for measuring progress or degradation. Bajío is funding a portion of the study for the Yucatan. The plan is to fund similar studies for all of the flats we visit with what we are calling “Project Treasure Mapping.”