Mexico Fishermen Concerned About How Natural Gas Pipeline Will Impact Their Livelihood

A shrimp boat, Don Rafa 1, in Alvarado, Veracruz.
Jorge Valencia
September 08, 2017

Mexico is investing in a major energy deal that could represent billions of dollars in trade with the U.S. It’s a massive construction project from Texas to Central Mexico.

In the second of a two-part series, Cross-Border Energy Boom — or Bust, the project is leaving one group of Mexican workers on the sideline of the economic boom.

On a fishing raft, just off a small port city in the Gulf of Mexico called Tuxpan, is Joel Franco Cruz..

He’s 70 years old. He says he’s been fishing his whole life, and he’s gonna keep on doing it until he can’t. His gear includes a rubber overall to guard himself from the mud. And his crew is his brother, his son and his grandson. Their raft is called The Friendly.

(Photo by Jorge Valencia - KJZZ)
Joel Franco Cruz, a fisherman from Tuxpan, Veracruz, is 70 years old and has been fishing his whole life.
Because we’re friendly with everybody, he says. He’s a lot less enthusiastic about the current construction of an underwater pipeline to transport natural gas from Texas to Mexico’s central gulf coast.

It hurts us, he says. The pipeline is being built by the corporation TransCanada. It will cost $3.1 billion and it will be 500 miles long. And fishermen like Cruz say it also has the capacity to destroy their livelihood.
A few members of local fishing cooperatives recently sat down for lunch with the mayor-elect of Tuxpan. This city is the end-terminal for the gas line. They treated the mayor-elect to shrimp and ceviche. The unofficial spokesman for the group, Henry Marquez Escudero, told the mayor-elect that they hired the help of environmental scientists and lawyers. (All children of fishermen, by the way.)

Fishermen and mayor-elect
(Photo by Jorge Valencia - KJZZ)
Fishermen meet with the Mayor-Elect Jose Antonio Aguilar Mancha (right) in Tuxpan, Veracruz, to express their concerns.

The cooperative leaders have been trying to be heard since they first found about the pipeline in May, which was when construction started. And this is how they say it impacts them: its construction and permanent location will keep some of the fish they catch in lakes from spawning out in the sea. And a six-mile fishing prohibition around the pipeline will limit what they can catch in open water.

“Look, the first people to be affected in the Gulf of Mexico are the shrimp fishermen and the tuna fishermen. Even if the pipeline isn’t next to the coast, it will have broad consequences," Marquez said.

Marquez asks the mayor-elect to help represent them with federal authorities and with the builder. (Federal officials and TransCanada did not respond to requests for comment.) The mayor-elect, Jose Antonio Aguilar Mancha, says he’ll do what he can. But he pivots.

“Not everything is going to be fishing. We’re going to do a big push for tourism. And those of you who use rafts for fishing, you could be tour guides. You know the sea better than anyone else," Aguilar said.

Back out on the water, Tomas Filidor Valencia says he’s been a fisherman his entire life because he loves the water. But he’s not excited about becoming a tour guide. Separately, he says, he wants help -- not a handout.

Money in a poor person’s hands doesn’t last long, Valencia says. What he wants is help switching to another job. Another job like farming shrimp or fish in water tanks on dry land.

A few days after the fishermen met with the mayor, TransCanada continued its work and the fishermen still hadn’t heard from anyone — about just how they factored in with their state and their country’s big plans.

Part I:The story of how one of the country’s most struggling states is hoping to capitalize on this black gold rush.
Music by Jason Shaw