Mexican sharks under threat

Country/area: Mexico

Organisation: Inter Press Service, Earth Journalism Network

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 26/08/2021

Credit: Emilio Godoy


Emilio Godoy has been a journalist since 1996. He studied literature at Del Valle University of Guatemala and a master’s degree in communication and development at City University in London.

Media from Germany, Belgium, Costa Rica, Spain, the United States, Guatemala and Mexico have published his articles on a variety of topics, such as human rights, corruption, sustainable development, renewable energy, climate emergency and energy transition in Latin America.

Since 2007, Mr. Godoy has focused his work on the socio-economic and environmental effects of the climate crisis, the need to move towards a low-carbon economy and sustainable development modalities, original reporting that has been awarded with journalistic awards on the environment and energy and investigative journalism fellowships. His articles have been cited in academic journals.

His reporting has revealed the dimension of pollution in Mexico, the damage created by the exploitation of fossil fuels, the development of fracking in the country and the risks of nuclear energy.

Since 2018, he has been an ambassador for Latin America of Clean Energy Wire (CLEW), based in Germany, for the network of journalists for the energy transition.

Project description:

The two-part story delves into the threats faced by four shark species in Mexico, which lack sound protection. Those varieties face overfishing and the effects of the climate crisis, such as higher water temperatures and scarcity of food. The investigation shows the research on sharks, the lack of protection, how the Mexican government allows the fishing of endangered sharks and their fin exports to China and Hong Kong, and the contradiction between the fishing and the environmental sectors around protection priorities.

Impact reached:

The investigation has shown the problems around the protection of sharks under threat in Mexico, including legal, statistical and research issues. It has demonstrated the difficulties to study the biology of sharks, in order to obtain hard data to sustain decisions. It has revealed how fishing authorities allow overfishing of the endangered species, contrary to the international commitments adopted by Mexico. The research has shown how Mexican authorities have ignored scientific knowledge delivered by scientists and NGOs to get sharks protected. The investigation has exposed how Mexican authorities have authorized shark fin exports under CITIES based on dubious data. Mexico analyzes again the protection of four shark species, which would be announced in the first quarter of 2022. CITES has yet to study the level of protection of sharks in Mexico, given that the pandemic has restricted physical meetings.

Techniques/technologies used:

Based on what sources tipped me, I relied on FOIA requests to obtain scientific studies and databases on fishing permits, fishing catches and shark fin exports. That bulk of information gave me the insights to interview sources on the most important aspects regarding the situation of endangered sharks in Mexico. I analyzed, compared, cribbed and mapped the databases to learn where sharks were caught, who catched them, when, who exported shark fins, to whom and on what basis were the permits issued. I visualized the data to see how shark fishing moves and where are the hotspots of shark fishing and of their trade. That bulk led me to draw some important conclusions that confirm my hypothesis and allows me to keep researching the issue.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The merits of the investigation rest on its exclusivity, its originality, its innovative approach –based on till then unknown scientific studies and the bulk of statistics–, and the variety of sources. The FOIA requests take one month to get answers and, if those answers are not satisfying, it takes two more months for the appeal process. Once answers were delivered, the databases were huge. I spent weeks studying the data, including classifying them by year, place, species, type of boat, capacity of the boat, and so on. Then, I assessed the results to see if they were in the margins of the expectations, if they were logical, according with the causes of the issues sorrounding the situation of sharks. I revised the results to verify their accuracy and to evaluate if they support the hypothesis.

What can others learn from this project?

Journalists can learn from this investigation the usefulness of FOIA requests, the reliance on databases and the development of data journalism. First, to draw original ideas based on information obtained from sources. Second, designing a roadmap to develop those ideas on the field. Third, drawing the questions for the FOIA requests. Forth, selecting the type of statistics needed to support the research. Fifth, analyzing the databases. Sixth, getting the results you need to sustain your approach to the issue. This type of projects is helpful to build and test journalistic skills.

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