I’m sure many of you who are reading this don’t really know what’s going on in the Vaquita world. And unless you are in VIVA Vaquita, I don’t really expect you to.
So here’s the rundown:
We all were crossing our fingers on Thanksgiving in hopes of the Mexican government’s Vaquita announcement being good news. In typical fashion, the announcement came over a week late. And it wasn’t really a public announcement. In summary, the announcement was that in San Felipe and El Golfo de Santa Clara (not Puerto Peñasco) shrimp (not corvina) gillnetting and longline fishing will be banned for a year, while compensating for the fishermen’s losses. At first, this sounds like good news, a strong start with a lot of potential success. Well, there’s one kicker they didn’t mention: it’s optional.
When I found this out, I felt like the world was collapsing. In terms of gillnet fishing, anything that’s optional means they aren’t going to do it. It’s just a plain fact. Even when it isn’t optional they still illegally fish. On December 5th, in the Vaquita Refuge, what is thought of as one of the few remaining safe havens for the Vaquita, 90 boats, many of which had gillnets were photographed in an aerial survey. 90. And that’s just in the Refuge.
So, it seemed to us at VIVA Vaquita that the Mexican government wasn’t taking CIRVA’s recommendations for a complete ban seriously. And after much, MUCH consideration and taking account for all variables and outcomes, here is the official statement from VIVA Vaquita:
VAQUITA NEARING EXTINCTION!
In July 2014, at the 5th Meeting of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), it was estimated that the Vaquita population had decreased to only 97 individuals, and the rate of decline had accelerated to an estimated 18.5% annually (CIRVA 2014). Recent evidence indicates that about 28 Vaquitas (29% of the current population) were killed in gillnets in the 2013/2014 period (Urrutia-Osorio et al. 2014). Despite CIRVA’s strong and urgent call for an immediate ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s range, as a critical measure to avoid the species going extinct in the next couple of years, the Mexican Government has not implemented any such ban. The shrimp gillnet fishery continues legally, and there is now rampant illegal fishing with gillnets inside the Vaquita Refuge. This is in addition to the illegal gillnet fishery for Totoaba, itself an endemic and endangered species, which has apparently expanded, and is now fueling the drastic decline in Vaquita numbers.
The Vaquita population most likely now numbers less than 90 individuals (perhaps much less), and is rapidly heading toward extinction, with a probable point of no return in the next year. Valuable time has been lost during the 2014 shrimp gillnet fishing season, with the Mexican Government delaying action, and vaquita numbers declining further.
In light of this, ¡VIVA Vaquita! is calling on the Mexican Government to immediately implement and enforce a two-year ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s range, as recommended by CIRVA. We ask all consumers to purchase and support only those Mexican seafood products (i.e., fish and shrimp) that have been caught with methods other than gillnets (methods such as trawls, longlines, or hook & line gear). Check product packaging for place of origin and ask your seafood servers/vendors to serve ONLY non-gillnet caught items. A two-year ban will buy time for the Vaquita, and allow for the full conversion of fisheries to more sustainable gear. Support for fishermen who are willing to use alternative gear (i.e., less damaging than gillnets) is essential for the survival of the vaquita, as well as other marine life in the Gulf of California.
CIRVA (International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita). 2014. Report of the 5th Meeting of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita. Ensenada, Baja California, México, 8-10 July 2014, Unpublished Report, 38pp.
Urrutia-Osorio, M. F., A. M. Jaramillo-Legorreta and O. S. Osa-Nishizaki. 2014. Analysis of the artisanal fisheries’ fishing effort dynamics in San Felipe as a bycatch modeling tool for the vaquita (Phocoena sinus). Presentation at American Cetacean Society’s 14th International Conference, 7-9 November 2014, Newport Beach, CA.
We encourage you to avoid buying any seafood products from Mexico, unless you are positive they are from Vaquita-safe sources. This can only work if it spreads through social media like wildfire.
The Muskwa Club has also formed an extremely well thought-out five-part plan that we will begin implementing immediately.
The plan contains the following five parts:
1. Educate consumers in China and Chinese restaurants in America about the negative effects of the Totoaba trade for the Vaquita and the fish itself.
2. Design an efficient, cheap, and Vaquita-safe trawl net that will be given to fishermen as a replacement for gillnets.
3. Continue educating the public about the Vaquita’s plight, including International Save the Vaquita Day.
4. Reach out to celebrities due to their ability to raise funds for the ban and the safe nets, as well as begin a public outcry in favor of the Vaquita
5. Keep everyone’s spirits up in the Vaquita community. It is not too late for the species, unless we don’t work together or stay positive.
We will do everything in our power to make these five steps come true, but there is only so much a group of teenagers can do.
None of this will be possible without your generous support. We ask you to please donate to VIVA Vaquita, as now is a more important time than ever: http://www.vivavaquita.org/donations.html
VIVA Vaquita’s site has undergone a major makeover, which will be published any day now.
Another extremely helpful step you can take is to sign and share our Vaquita petitions, the newest being an urgent letter to the Mexican president and others: https://www.change.org/p/enrique-pe%C3%B1a-nieto-stop-the-extinction-of-the-vaquita-porpoise.
I am pleased to say the word is really getting out about the Vaquita. Nearly all of my relatives have called me saying they saw the Vaquita in the news, and my aunt even sent me this newspaper clipping:
And any time you need any motivation to help the Vaquita, just take a look at this picture: