Mexico approves measure to save world's rarest marine mammal



Posted on 07 June 2013  | 
Vaquita or Gulf of California Harbor porpoise (Phocoena sinus) caught in fishing nets, Baja California, Mexico.
A critically endangered vaquita caught in a gillnet.
© National Geographic Stock/Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures / WWFEnlarge
The government of Mexico has taken a decisive step to save the vaquita - a porpoise threatened by extinction - and to promote sustainable fisheries in the upper Gulf of California for the benefit of fishers and their families, says WWF-Mexico.

The new regulation, called an official norm, comes after over 38,000 people from 127 countries signed WWF's petition to Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto requesting measures to save the vaquita and allow fishers to continue to earn a living through sustainable fishing.

“With this norm, drift gillnets - one of the nets used in artisanal shrimping operations in which vaquitas die incidentally - will be gradually substituted, during a three year period, for selective fishing gears that does not kill this porpoise, but that allow fishers to keep earning their livelihoods. The effective application of the norm requires the participation and commitment of local fishermen. The optimal use of the net requires the development of particular skills; therefore, the support of the government and other organizations through training and temporary compensation programs will be essential along the fisher´s learning curve,” said Omar Vidal, WWF-Mexico’s Director General.

“It represents a major opportunity to promote sustainable fisheries in the region and to protect this Mexican porpoise. WWF acknowledges the commitment of the Mexican government to save the vaquita from extinction”, added Vidal.

Of all cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), the vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is the only one endemic to Mexico, has the most restricted distribution (it only lives in the upper Gulf of California), is the smallest (reaches a maximum length of 1.5 meters) and faces the highest risk of extinction.

It is estimated that less than 200 vaquitas currently survive. Its main threat is incidental entanglement and drowning in drift gillnets used to catch shrimp, sharks, rays and other fish. Vaquitas also continues to die trapped in gillnets used in the illegal fishing of totoaba, a fish which is also endangered.

The new regulation establishes shrimping standards in Mexico and defines the fishing gears permitted in different zones of the country. 


Vaquita or Gulf of California Harbor porpoise (Phocoena sinus) caught in fishing nets, Baja California, Mexico.
A critically endangered vaquita caught in a gillnet.
© National Geographic Stock/Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures / WWF Enlarge
Vaquita (Phocoena sinus). Proyecto conjunto de investigación con la Coordinación de Investigación y Conservación de Mamíferos Marinos del Instituto Nacional de Ecología (INE). Foto obtenida de acuerdo al permiso No. DR7488708 de la Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) de la SEMARNAT.
Vaquitas are so rare that there are few photographs of them alive.
© Thomas A. Jefferson Enlarge

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