Hope for the vaquita
During a meeting at the White House on July 22, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and US President Barack Obama signalled their determination to save the vaquita, which only lives in Mexican waters in the upper Gulf of California – and has been plummeting towards extinction.
In particular, Mexico will permanently ban on the use of gillnets in all fisheries throughout the range of the vaquita, removing the greatest threat to its survival – being accidentally trapped in the nets as bycatch.
“These commitments show strengthened bilateral resolve to saving the world’s most endangered marine mammal,” said Omar Vidal, CEO of WWF in Mexico. “A permanent ban on the use of gillnets is a landmark moment in the fight to save the vaquita.”
Both countries agreed to establish and implement a long-term programme to remove and permanently dispose of illegal and derelict fishing gear from vaquita habitat.
“Now this ban must be fully enforced, and bilateral commitments to rid local waters of abandoned ‘ghost nets’ must be implemented. These common-sense solutions offer the greatest hope for the future of the vaquita and to improve fishermen’s livelihoods in the Upper Gulf,” added Vidal.
Both countries also committed to increasing cooperation and enforcement efforts to immediately halt the illegal fishing for, and illegal trade in, the swim bladders of the endangered totoaba fish. Many vaquita have died as bycatch in this illegal fishery.
“In the end, immediately halting the illegal fishing and trade of totoaba fish is central to reversing the vaquita’s decades-long decline,” said Vidal. “We urge Presidents Peña Nieto and Obama to follow up on their dialogue by engaging China to address the demand driving illegal totoaba fishing and trade.”
“Together, Mexico, the US, and China can take urgent and coordinated action to stop the illegal fishing, trafficking, and consumption of totoaba. By ending totoaba poaching, we are safeguarding the future of the vaquita,” stressed Vidal.
And one concrete step has already been taken with Mexico's National Institute of Fisheries (INAPESCA) and WWF Mexico establishing an international committee of experts to further develop and urgently implement vaquita-safe fishing technologies.
"This experts committee will advise the Mexican government on improving fishing techniques not harmful to vaquita, including those that INAPESCA and WWF Mexico have together developed over the last years," said Pablo Arenas, head of INAPESCA.
The committee is comprised of experts from Texas A&M University, NOAA South East Fisheries Center, Swedish University of Agriculture Science, Technological University of Denmark, Canada's Fisheries and Marine Institute, New England Aquarium, FAO, INAPESCA and WWF, which will serve as the technical secretariat for the committee.
"Scaling up the commercial use of fishing technologies that do not kill vaquitas is a high priority because this will allow fishermen and their families to make a sustainable living. We will be working with buyers in California and other parts of the U.S. to promote preferential markets for vaquita-safe seafood so that fishermen are rewarded for their efforts to protect this porpoise," said Vidal.
"A future in which both vaquitas and sustainable local fishing communities thrive is within our hand's reach. If together we can make this happen, Mexico will send a wave of hope to other countries where species and populations of small cetaceans are being driven to extinction by accidental entanglement in gillnets."