Southern California boaters setting off south of the border have some new requirements to meet and a new fee to pay, which could lead to adverse effects on both sailboat races and chartered fishing trips.
The new rules were outlined by Mexican officials at an October meeting at Hubbs Research Center in San Diego, clarifying that recreational boaters would be required to submit an online application -- similar to a visa -- and pay a $23 per passenger fee for traveling into Mexican waters.
Enforcing the new fee will be the responsibility of the Mexican Navy, which is expected to have boats patrolling the border, ready to board U.S. recreational vessels to check for the correct paperwork.
The changes mean private recreational boaters and chartered sportfishing operators traveling into Mexican waters are required to pay $23 per person aboard their vessels.
San Diego boater Bill Davidson, who often takes friends out to Mexico's productive offshore fishing grounds aboard his 25-foot Parker sportfisher, said the fee will severely impact the fishing industry in the area.
"The problem is that the fee's only good for one trip, so the next time you go down, it's another $23 bucks," said Davidson, who is also president of the San Diego Anglers Club. "With that tacked on on top of the fuel, fishing licenses and bait, a lot of people can't afford it. Essentially no private boater I know is fishing in Mexico right now."
At Fisherman's Landing in San Diego, operations manager Justin Kaullen said the application process is being handled by the charter captains, who then roll in the additional fee into the price of the fishing trip.
With the flat fee, it will add on $23 per angler whether it's a half-day trip or a two-week trip.
"Right now, it's the winter season, so it's hard to judge what kind of effect it will have on our customers, but it hasn't really effected our long-range trips so far," Kaullen said.
In Newport Beach, Davey's Locker owner Mike Thompson said the new fee won't affect the charter fishing fleet's Mexico trips as the charge is only required for boats traveling within 12 miles of Mexican coastline, and his boats can stay outside that boundary.
"Right now, the local guys are okay," Thompson said. "But this could have a potentially huge impact for the San Diego guys."
The permit requirement has actually been in place since December 2011, but Thompson said it wasn't being enforced until the arrival of the online application system that launched this year.
"Everything's really up in the air. From what I understand, the Mexican central government in Mexico City has basically told the state of Baja to enforce this," Thompson said.
For sailboat racers, the new rules could mean trouble on courses traversing Mexico's waters like the annual Newport to Ensenada race scheduled for April or the Border Run race in February.
Chuck Iverson, commodore for the Newport Ocean Sailing Association, said he has been in discussions with Mexican officials on the latest changes.
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