Posted on 03 March 2015
Project will also support fishing communities in Upper Gulf of California
With less than 100 vaquitas surviving in the Upper Gulf of California, time is rapidly running out for the world’s smallest porpoise. But last week’s decision by the Mexican government to buy-out gillnet fisheries in the entire vaquita habitat for the next two years has given the species some much-needed breathing space.
“The buy-out of gillnet fisheries and the fair economic compensation to fishers affected by this measure clearly demonstrates the Mexican government’s determination to save the vaquita from extinction,” said Omar Vidal, CEO of WWF-Mexico, who has been studying the vaquita and working towards its conservation for three decades.
“This unprecedented multi-stakeholder effort not only provides hope for the vaquita, but is also a great example for people working to protect other critically endangered small cetaceans affected by gillnets across the world, such as Maui’s and Hector´s dolphins in New Zealand, Indus and Ganges River dolphins, and the small sub-population of harbour porpoises in the Baltic Sea,” added Vidal.
The population of vaquita, which is Spanish for ‘little cow’, has declined dramatically in recent years due to the extensive use of legal and illegal gillnets, which impact many other small cetaceans throughout the world.
Between 1997 and 2008, the vaquita population fell by around 8.4% per year. This alarming rate of decline was cut in half after 2008 through a successful series of initiatives lead by the Mexican government together with local fishing communities and civil society organizations.
However, in 2012, the rate rocketed up to 18.5% due to soaring growth in the illegal totoaba fishery – an endangered fish whose swim bladder is trafficked to China across the Mexico-US border – and an increase in the number of illegal gillnets used to catch shrimp. With more and more vaquita ending up in gillnets, the future of the species looked bleak
But now there is hope – for both the vaquita and the local fishing communities of El Golfo de Santa Clara and San Felipe.
Along with suspending gillnet fishing from March 2015, the Mexican authorities will invest US$36 million each year to support affected fishing communities and boost conservation efforts. The funds will compensate fishers for abandoning gillnets, and pay for extra surveillance work by local communities in support of law enforcement efforts by federal authorities.
It will also provide a window of opportunity to promote the adoption of existing, sustainable fishing practices and to develop alternatives to transform the local fishing industry.
“This buy-out and compensation scheme is the most comprehensive set of measures to be implemented in the past twenty years in the fight to save the vaquita and provide the local communities with sustainable livelihoods,” said Vidal. “The new law, however, is just the start. We will continue to collaborate with the authorities and the communities, as well as reaching out to partners nationally and internationally, to support the efforts of the Mexican government so as to ensure that this initiative succeeds.”
For more than 15 years, WWF has worked with the authorities, communities and the private sector to help conserve the vaquita and support sustainable alternatives for fishing communities, including developing innovative fishing gear that does not accidentally trap and kill vaquitas.
WWF will continue to partner with the government and local fishers to promote vaquita-safe fishing technologies and develop preferential markets in Mexico and the US for sustainable fishing products from the Upper Gulf of California, as well as continue supporting scientific efforts to monitor the status of the vaquita population to evaluate the impact of the Mexican government’s conservation measures.
There is a lot of work to be done but WWF remains hopeful that by working with many partners, in particular local communities, we will be able to help turn the tide for this beautiful ‘little cow’ – the vaquita.