Trilateral action against illegal totoaba trade crucial to save the vaquita
The totoaba and vaquita are species endemic to the Upper Gulf of California in Mexico, part of the Gulf of California World Heritage site. In recent years, unsustainable fishing practices and illegal wildlife trafficking have seen populations spiral downward, with vaquita numbers plummeting to as low as 30 or fewer individuals remaining.
As the majority of totoaba swim bladders follow an illegal trade route from Mexico through the United States to China, the first trilateral meeting, held this week in Ensenada, Mexico marks a potential turning point against totoaba trafficking where decisive action could bolster ongoing conservation efforts to protect the last remaining vaquitas. At the meeting, where WWF was participating as an observer, the three countries agreed to promote cooperation on investigating organized wildlife crime networks and strengthen customs training, paving the way toward improved collaboration in enforcement measures.
Dr. Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader, said:
“Cross-border collaboration is essential to tackle a challenge at the scale of global wildlife crime. Political will has long been a bottleneck in international efforts to crack down on illegal totoaba trade and the trilateral meeting marks a crucial moment that can mobilize the high-level policy efforts and collective determination needed to dismantle criminal syndicates and save the vaquita.”
The meeting comes less than two months after the implementation of a permanent ban on the use of gillnets in the Upper Gulf of California as part of the strong commitment of the Mexican government to prevent the vaquita’s extinction. The ban will be further accompanied by the retrieval of all abandoned or lost “ghost” nets within the vaquita habitat and the development of new fishing gear and techniques for local communities – measures considered imperative by WWF to halt the vaquita population decline and secure its habitat.
Jorge Rickards, Director General, WWF-Mexico, said:
“As we head into a new fishing season in the Upper Gulf of California, the meeting reminds us all that we – and the vaquita – have no time to lose. The commitment we have seen at the table today is promising but our work has only just begun. We urge the three countries to rapidly move to action even as we work together with local communities and partners to create a gillnet-free and healthy Upper Gulf of California - for both marine life such as the vaquita and totoaba, and people.”
WWF has been working with the government of Mexico and other partners to identify and implement a comprehensive long-term strategy to save the vaquita and secure its habitat in the Upper Gulf of California, an important source of income, food and livelihood for thousands of people in the country. WWF was invited by the Mexican government to participate in the trilateral meeting as an official observer, alongside high-level representatives including Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Rafael Pacchiano Alamán, as part of this ongoing cooperation.
“It is critical to leave no stone unturned in our efforts to save the vaquita and it is encouraging to see Mexico lead the way. In the past months, the government has announced financial support for captive totoaba production, dispatched naval forces to the vaquita habitat and cracked down decisively on illegal fishing and we hope the discussions today lead to concrete actions that strengthen the impact of these efforts,” added Rickards.
The trilateral meeting was organized as a follow-up to the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, in Johannesburg in 2017 where China, Mexico and the United States committed to maintain cooperation and coordination in combating illegal fishing and trade in totoaba.
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Notes to Editors:
- Photos for use along with copyright information are available for download here.
- Additional information on the trilateral meeting can be found here.
- On 9 May 2017, WWF launched an e-action inviting individuals worldwide to write to President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico to urge immediate action to protect rare wildlife like the vaquita and local livelihoods in the Gulf of California World Heritage site. Over 200,000 people have joined the e-action to date, with actor and WWF-US board member Leonardo DiCaprio also supporting it on social media. Following these efforts, on 30 June 2017, Mexican President Enrique Peña announced a permanent ban on gillnet fishing. However, the illegal totoaba trade continues to be one of the key threats to the survival of the vaquita.
Jatziri Pérez | WWF-Mexico | firstname.lastname@example.org
Rodolfo Pérez | WWF-Mexico | email@example.com
Ana Laura de la Torre | WWF-Mexico | firstname.lastname@example.org
Rucha Naware | WWF International | email@example.com; +32 465 75 1339