CITES agrees to protect vaquita!

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has just announced a plan to end totoaba poaching in order to save the vaquita.

CITES is an agreement between 183 nations with the goal of eliminating the threat of international wildlife trade. The convention, which is currently in session in Johannesburg, South Africa, has urged Mexico, the United States, and China to cooperate to end the totoaba trade and therefore save the vaquita. Here is a quote from the Washington Post article about the new agreement (link to article at bottom of post).

“Mexico is where they are caught. The United States is often where totoaba bladders, called maw, are trucked to ports. China is their final destination. CITES, as the convention is known, told the three governments to do a better job of sharing police information on seizures and busts to catch more criminals.

[…]

Though both the totoaba and vaquita were already getting the strongest protections under CITES, member nations meeting in Johannesburg decided Thursday that greater measures were needed.

[…]

Their new directive placed the weight of saving the vaquita on the backs of the three nations. They are “parties that are range, transit or consumer countries of totoaba,” said Zak Smith, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council who attended the meeting.

Based on seizure information from smuggling busts, China is the destination for most totoaba. Mexico and the United States are currently cooperating to police the trade, and CITES told China to join them. “With the sharing of this information, law enforcement could better define flows and target additional efforts,” Smith said. “Basically, the decisions call on Mexico, the U.S., and China to step up efforts to combat trafficking via seizures and sharing information with each other on seizures, and to raise awareness and conduct demand reduction activities.”

This is wonderful news, and adds yet another layer of pressure on these three nations to carry out their promises to save the vaquita by ending the totoaba trade. But as always, agreements on paper do not always translate into action. We need to keep the pressure on to make sure all three nations, with the support of the rest of the world, actually do what is necessary to combat the incredibly destructive and unnecessary totoaba swim bladder trade and save the precious vaquita from the eternal grip of extinction.

CITES

Here is an article from Thursday by Zak Smith of the Natural Resources Defense Council (link at bottom).

“Exciting news out of South Africa! Today, the world committed to help save the vaquita at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Parties agreed to crack down on trafficking in a fish species, the totoaba, which is wiping out the vaquita. The vaquita get caught and drown in gillnets used to catch totoaba.

It is a sad reality that the illegal trade in one CITES protected species, the totoaba, will cause the extinction of another CITES protected species, the vaquita, within 5 years if current trends continue. Now, with fewer than 60 vaquita remaining, there is simply no margin for error.

As I write this, governments from around the world are discussing the fate of many species at the 17th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties in Johannesburg, South Africa. In most instances, the Parties are finding comfort in knowing that, if proper steps are taken, we have time to reverse destructive trends. But for the vaquita, time is no longer a resource. While well intentioned, prior efforts were too timid, allowed to lapse, and in some cases undermined by unscrupulous stakeholders.

In recent years, Mexico has taken important steps, including increased enforcement to combat totoaba trade. And earlier this year the United States and China committed to combat the trade at the U.S. and China strategic and economic dialogue. But more must be done.

Thus, it is critical that we take all steps necessary to combat illegal trade in totoaba. If the vaquita is going to survive beyond the next CITES Conference of the Parties in 2019, Mexico, the United States, and China must work together to completely wipe out the totoaba trade. The actions adopted by governments at CITES support that effort and now Mexico, the U.S., and China must vigorously implement them.”

To read more about the agreement, check out these aforementioned articles:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2016/09/30/the-world-is-making-a-last-push-to-save-its-cutest-porpoise-from-extinction-it-probably-wont-work/

https://www.nrdc.org/experts/zak-smith/world-agrees-actions-stop-vaquitas-extinction

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The gillnet ban is permanent!

The day has finally come.

Every type of gillnet is permanently banned in the vaquita’s range. There will never again be a legal gillnet in the upper Gulf of California.

Today, Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto had a meeting to discuss relations between the US and Mexico. In the press release following the meeting, it was announced that the gillnet ban would be made permanent to protect the vaquita:

“Both Presidents committed to intensify bilateral cooperation to protect the critically endangered vaquita marina porpoise, including through the following actions:

  • Mexico will make permanent a ban on the use of gillnets in all fisheries throughout the range of the vaquita in the upper Gulf of California;
  • Both countries will increase cooperation and enforcement efforts to immediately halt the illegal fishing for and illegal trade in totoaba swim bladders;
  • Both countries will redouble efforts, in collaboration with international experts, to develop alternative fishing gear to gillnets that does not result in the entanglement of vaquita and establish “vaquita-safe” fisheries; and
  • Both countries will establish and implement a long-term program to remove and permanently dispose of illegal and derelict fishing gear from vaquita habitat in the upper Gulf of California.”

You can read the entire press release here, which contains other announcements not related to the vaquita.

This is a major victory. In fact, it is probably the most important event in vaquita conservation history. We have been tirelessly working towards a permanent ban for years, and that hard work has paid off. The petition (which garnered over 96,000 signatures), International Save the Vaquita Day (which directly educated thousands of people all over the world less than two weeks ago), overwhelming news and press coverage (including a full-length 60 Minutes segment), and extensive social media awareness across every platform all played a huge part in showing the government that we truly do care about the vaquita’s existence.

However, it is not that simple. The vaquita is not saved just because of this ban. As with any law, it is only as effective as its enforcement.

Legal fishermen need to be fully compensated. Vaquita-safe nets need to be developed and implemented. Nighttime poachers needs to be stopped and punished. Totoaba swim bladder demand needs to be removed. Enforcement needs to be stronger than ever.

Here is a great article from the producers of Souls of the Vermilion Sea:

http://vaquitafilm.com/mexico-permanently-bans-gillnets-in-the-upper-gulf/

The situation in the upper Gulf fishing communities is extremely complex and therefore is very difficult to fully comprehend, let alone control. This ban will be useless if certain things are not taken care of immediately. Below is an excerpt from the article:

“Here are our questions for the Mexican Government:

To what degree will enforcement of the ban be improved? Will there be regular nighttime patrols conducted by the Navy?

Will the compensation program be extended? Will a significant effort be put forth to end the rampant corruption associated with the current compensation program?

Will fisherman in the region be provided with alternative fishing gear free of cost? Will there be a training program to teach fisherman how to use this new fishing gear?

Does this mean that the corvina fishery, which utilizes gillnets but was allowed under the current ban, will be stopped?

A permanent gillnet ban, while it seems on the surface like a giant step forward for vaquita conservation, actually has the potential to have a negative impact on the vaquita population if Mexico doesn’t truly commit to fixing the problems associated with the current ban.”

One of these problems is that because the ban on gillnet fishing has been effectively enforced, yet the compensation system is corrupt, fishermen are forced to find a new way to make money. Unfortunately, that way of making money just so happens to be nighttime totoaba poaching, which is the most dangerous fishing of all for the vaquita. This permanent ban could very well increase totoaba poaching to a more rampant level than ever before if the compensation and nighttime enforcement issues are not fixed quickly and thoroughly.

As I have always said (and probably always will say), our work to save the vaquita is not done. However, this new ban could be a turning point for the species. It shows that our hard work is paying off, and that the government really does care about the vaquita. That is a winning combination, and as long as we keep the pressure on the government to follow through with all the steps necessary to save this species, no matter how difficult, the outcome will be vaquitas swimming around safely and happily in the beautiful Gulf of California for generations to come.

Today is cause for momentary celebration before we get back to work!

Viva Vaquita!

Ban Poster

Poster made by my brother, featuring the beautiful stuffed vaquita sent to me by Jen Gabler

Make the gillnet ban permanent!

If the Vaquita is to be saved, four things need to happen:

  1. The gillnet ban is made permanent
  2. The ban is properly enforced
  3. The Totoaba swim bladder trade is shut down
  4. Alternative, Vaquita-safe fishing gear is developed and implemented

These are not going to be easy to accomplish, but Mexico certainly has the power and will to make them all a reality.

We need to show our support and clarify exactly what needs to be done to save this species. But how can I tell the Mexican government these four things? How can I make my voice heard?

Now there is an easy way.

The VIVA Vaquita Coalition has started a petition to get this message to:

President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto
Secretary of SEMARNAT Rafael Pacchiano Alamán
Director of CONAPESCA Mario A. Aguilar Sánchez
Minister of SAGARPA José Eduardo Calzada Rovirosa
Director of INAPESCA Dr. Pablo Arenas Fuentes
 ~~~~~

These people are extremely influential and literally have the power in their hands to save the Vaquita. If they agree to the four things above, the Vaquita will most likely thrive.

Signing the petition is extremely easy. All you have to do is fill in your name, email address, etc. and press Sign! Or you can log in to Change.org with Facebook or email, and literally just click one button to sign!

If there is one thing you ever do for the Vaquita, make it signing this petition.

Thank you from the VV coalition and the Vaquita.

To learn more and sign, click here:

https://www.change.org/p/make-the-gillnet-ban-permanent-to-save-the-vaquita

And don’t forget to support the Thunderclap!

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The waiting room

There is no feeling worse than sitting in a waiting room and having no idea what is happening to your loved one in the E.R. You wish you could be there to see what is going on, or better yet, help in any way you can. But you can only sit in the waiting room, staring at the floor and praying to any god out there.

The Vaquita’s situation is no different. The well-being of the patient (Vaquita) is now fully in the surgeon’s (government’s) hands, while we can only sit in our own little waiting rooms and hope that they do the right thing. Nothing is harder for conservationists than feeling powerless. However, we still can help by doing the little things. Signing petitions, spreading awareness, donating to conservation groups, and avoiding unsustainable Mexican seafood can only help the situation.

The 2-year ban has officially been underway for a few weeks now, but there is still much uncertainty as to what really is happening in the Gulf.

There have been claims of Navy officials opening fire on (and injuring) fleeing Totoaba poachers, but these rumors have been denied by a Vaquita expert. There is also word that many or even all of the fishermen have not yet been compensated, and we hope this is also just a rumor, or it’s because they are still working out who is going to get paid. Either way, there is a very real danger that the government doesn’t really intend to compensate the fishermen, who will then be forced to return to (illegal) fishing. Amid all this confusion, not only can independent agencies make a difference, they may be the only chance. Vince Radice said it best in his latest post:

“If [we let] history be our guide and Vaquita conservation is left solely up to the Mexican government, especially enforcement (or should I say the lack thereof) in regards to illegal fishing, as it has been for that last 10 years, it is game over for Vaquita. It is crucial that independent agencies monitor the gill net ban. The lion’s share of work in regards to inspection for the next two years will be on the Mexican Navy and their three new interceptor patrol boats to enforce the no fishing ban. Satellite imaging and the use of drones will be important as well. But who over the next two years is going to start educating the local fisherman that it is in their best interests that they stop killing Vaquitas?”

The shrimp fishermen are not our enemies. Most of them are willing to stay out of the exclusion zone and genuinely care about the Gulf ecosystem, but we can’t expect them to do so without any help or compensation from the government. The poachers of course are a different story. The Mexican Navy has continued to make Totoaba busts, which is very positive news. The poachers are the biggest opponent on the water. They are armed and dangerous, which is why the Navy is the only realistic option for arresting them.

We need to keep the pressure on the Mexican (and U.S.) governments to really make sure they follow through with all their bold promises. If they do, the Vaquita is going to recover.

Here is an article by someone who grew up in San Felipe with a therefore unique perspective on the situation in the Gulf:

‘Ninety years after its founding, the port of San Felipe, Baja California, is not going through its best moments. Illegal fishing of Totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) exerts a negative pressure on the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus) population by increasing the threat of by-catch death due to the use of gillnets to capture the Totoaba. Under increasing national and international pressure, the Mexican government has decided to implement a two-year ban on the use of gillnets and longlines in the Upper Gulf of California, since these place the Vaquita at great risk. Although it is true that there is talk of an economic compensation for the fishermen and the fisheries production chain, which will also be affected by this strategy, the economy of the port of San Felipe will receive a great blow, the magnitude of which is still unknown.

The nervousness created by the ban that will begin in April is one of the factors that make this situation in the Upper Gulf complex. In the last weeks, the region has seen the rise of fuel prices, some paying up to $14 pesos a liter for regular unleaded. In the face of the elevated cost of fuel, the population is asking the government to keep the price equal to that of the city of Mexicali, B.C., since the port belongs to the municipality of the capital of the state, and the difference in prices is excessive. Low volumes of fish catch and high gasoline prices lower profits for fishermen. Gasoline represents the highest among the operation costs of a fishing vessel. 

As the beginning of the ban approaches and fishermen are looking for ways to adapt to the rising fuel prices, they have also had to deal with a no-fishing sanitary ban caused by a red tide. The red tide has been happening for more than a month and the fishing ban on bivalve mollusks has not been lifted, another blow for the economy of the port, since producers for geoduck and other affected species have not been able to commercialize their product during this time. The geoduck fishery is one of the most important for this port; just in 2006 it generated more than $80 million dollars for the state of Baja California. Even though red tides are naturally occurring events, and not all of them result in sanitary bans, the frequency and magnitude can increase due to factors like pollution and even elevated water temperatures. It is the first time in a long time that a red tide is registered to extend all over the Upper Gulf of California (from Puerto Peñasco to Bahia de Los Angeles) and for such a long period of time.

In the midst of these events the fishermen of San Felipe are in a situation of uncertainty. Fishing is the principal source of income and with the suspension of the use of gillnets it is difficult for the sector to visualize a prosperous future in the Upper Gulf of California. According to a document drafted by SAGARPA the value of shrimp, finfish and shark production for San Felipe is $177,256,500 pesos annually. An independent study carried out by the Gulf of California Marine Program calculates that just the chano, Spanish mackerel, gulf corvina, and shrimp fisheries have an estimated annual value of $208,982,142 pesos for the community. The federal government will allocate more than $400 million pesos to compensate the fishermen of the Upper Gulf for the economic losses that the ban of gillnets will cause. In addition, it will invest more than $28 million pesos to compensate members of the productive food chain.

On the other hand, not everything is tragic. Government agencies like Sepesca-BC, CONANP, and CONAPESCA will offer support and financing programs for aquaculture and mariculture projects, among others, aimed at fishermen and cooperatives. These are alternatives for the fishermen’s economy and therefore, for the port. In the next two years it will be extremely important to invest in infrastructure for the port to guarantee the well being of the sector and absorb the economic blow that the region will suffer. Some fishermen will be able to participate in monitoring activities, for which the government has destined a little over $80 million pesos. In addition, there is also the possibility of continuing their fishing activities, as long as they use alternative fishing practices like traps and hook-and-line (commonly known there as “piola”). Sports fishing can become a profitable alternative since San Felipe is a well-known destination for national and international fishing aficionados.

Undoubtedly, the next few months will be difficult for the fishing sector. We have to work by monitoring the changes and adjustments that will be carried out in the Upper Gulf of California to keep looking for ways to balance fisheries with conservation.’

One way the pressure is being kept on the government is with this petition:

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/mammals/vaquita/pdfs/Gulf_of_California_WH_In_Danger_Petition_5_13_15.pdf

‘U.S. conservation groups petitioned the World Heritage Committee today to designate more than 6,900 square miles of ocean and islands in northern Mexico as “in danger” due to the urgent threat of extinction of the critically endangered Vaquita porpoise and Totoaba (a fish species) in the Gulf of California. The World Heritage Committee may consider the petition at its annual meeting in Bonn, Germany, this June.

Although the World Heritage Committee designated Mexico’s “Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California” as a World Heritage property in 2005 in recognition of the area’s outstanding biodiversity, the Vaquita and Totoaba now face extinction as a result of fishing activities, including poaching. The Vaquita is the world’s smallest porpoise and exists only in Mexico’s Gulf of California; the species has suffered a dramatic and alarming decline, with fewer than 100 animals remaining. Without help, scientists predict, the Vaquita could be extinct by 2018.

“Mexico’s Gulf of California World Heritage Area holds some of the world’s most incredible biodiversity and two of the world’s rarest species — the Vaquita and the Totoaba,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But time is running out. If Mexico doesn’t fully and permanently protect the area, these species will vanish forever.”

Under the World Heritage Convention, a property may be listed as “in danger” if there is a “serious decline in the population of the endangered species” that the property was established to protect, like the Vaquita and Totoaba. An “in danger” designation, the conservation groups advocate, will focus international attention on the species’ plight and may garner much-needed funds for the area’s conservation.

“The World Heritage Committee has an opportunity to help address the ongoing threats to the Vaquita and Totoaba by both designating this site as ‘in danger’ and by providing resources to reverse the decline in the species and degradation of this globally important World Heritage Area,” said D.J. Schubert, wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute. “An ‘in danger’ designation would be a wake-up call to Mexico and the world that more must be done to conserve this area and its species.”

Vaquita are often entangled in shrimp fishing gear and illegal gillnets set for Totoaba, a six-foot-long, critically endangered fish that is also only found in the Gulf of California. The Totoaba’s swim bladder is highly sought-after to make soup and for unproven treatments in traditional Chinese medicine. The species faces an increasing demand in the global black market, as a single Totoaba bladder can sell for USD $14,000.

Today’s petition follows Mexico’s announcement last month of a two-year ban on most gillnets in the northern Gulf of California and a promise of increased enforcement. While these measures are critical steps forward, the area requires permanent protection to ensure the two species’ future.

“While we applaud Mexico on its recent efforts to protect the Vaquita, the nation has a long and sad history of making ambitious pronouncements but not following through for the Vaquita,” said Uhlemann. “We hope an ‘in danger’ listing for the Gulf of California World Heritage property will bring international attention and funding necessary to save both the Vaquita and Totoaba from extinction.”’

Another thing to keep in the back of our minds is a boycott on all Mexican seafood. At this time the embargo is not in action, but we are prepared to boycott all Mexican seafood products if gillnet fishing continues and the Mexican government does not stop it.

Later this year, there will hopefully be an official Vaquita survey by NGOs and the Mexican government to get the most accurate and up-to-date population estimate.

After filming a Vaquita for the first time since 2013 (see previous post), Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro has made another big progression. They announced a partnership with the Mexican government that will enable Sea Shepherd to collaborate with them and also help patrol the exclusion zone. Read more here.

This is going to be a big summer for the Vaquita. We will all be on the edge of our seats waiting to see what the Mexican government does, and then acting based on that. A lot of exciting things are going on behind the scenes at VIVA Vaquita HQ, including planning for International Save the Vaquita Day 2015, on July 11!

And on Sunday, June 7 from 11:00 am-4:00 pm, I will have a Vaquita table in Boston at the New England Aquarium’s World Oceans Day celebration. Please join me!

CBD Graphic

Miracle

“What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself.”
—Mollie Beattie

The last few weeks have been nothing short of a miracle.

First came the official start of the ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s entire range on April 10, which supposedly goes into effect today, Tuesday, April 28. This was proposed on Christmas, and was considered to possibly be the best Vaquita conservation news ever. However, there were some doubts as to how serious this ban was. Mexico could have easily just been saying what conservationists wanted to hear with no intentions of enacting the ban, let alone enforcing it. This fear was hardened by the continual postponement of the start of the ban. But finally, in April the ban was officially announced to begin on the 10th, with payments being made before the 28th (tomorrow), when enforcements will start.

But then the news started getting really good.

On April 16 Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto made the trip to San Felipe to inaugurate the new ban. He gave a passionate speech at the large celebration dedicated to the newfound hope for the Vaquita. This was an unprecedented event that went a long way in showing how committed the Mexican government is going to be to this ban.

Here is an article (click the link for a video) by Sandra Dibble about the ceremony and Mexico’s new plans:

‘With the small and rarely seen Vaquita porpoise verging on extinction, Mexico’s federal government is launching an unprecedented effort to save the species — through measures that include a dramatically expanded ban on gillnet fishing in the Upper Gulf of California over the next two years.

President Enrique Peña Nieto on Thursday traveled to this quiet Baja California fishing port to formally launch the new plan to save this small sea mammal endemic to the region. With fewer than 100 Vaquita now believed alive, scientists say the species is likely to disappear unless drastic measures are taken immediately.

With this latest plan to preserve the Vaquita, Mexico is “reaffirming the government’s commitment to the preservation of our environment,” Peña Nieto told a gathering of several hundred that included conservationists, the country’s naval and defense secretaries, as well as the governors of Sinaloa, Nayarit and Baja California.

The smallest and most endangered of the world’s 128 cetaceans, the Vaquita can grow to four or five feet long and weigh up to 120 pounds. Among its characteristics are dark rings around the eyes and dark patches on its lips. First identified in 1958, the Vaquita lives in the turbid waters of the Upper Gulf of California, where its population has declined sharply.

According to Armando Jaramillo, a marine biologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change, the numbers have gone from 567 in an initial survey in 1997 to fewer than 100 today.

The announced extinction of the freshwater Baiji dolphin from China’s Yangtze River in 2006 has added urgency to conservationists’ calls.

The Vaquita “is a species emblematic of Mexico,” said Omar Vidal, director of the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico. “It’s like the Panda for China, not more, not less.”

Efforts to save the Vaquita have involved much cross-border collaboration, and present at Thursday’s event was Anthony Wayne, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, as well as representatives of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.

The threat to the Vaquita “is a symptom of a broken system,” said Alejandro Robles, chairman of the Mexican environmental group Noroeste Sustentable. “The Upper Gulf has tremendously valuable resources. It has been the historical disorganization of the fishing sector that has created what we have today.”

Cooperation from the fishing community will be key to saving the Vaquita, Robles and other conservationists say. But in recent years, their efforts have met with stiff resistance from local fishermen, many of whom see their livelihood threatened by the gillnet ban and are skeptical of the Vaquita’s existence.

“There are fishermen who have lived their entire lives without seeing this animal,” said Carlos Avila, a 39-year-old fisherman and San Felipe native. “If we haven’t seen it, how are we going to preserve it?”

Peña Nieto’s announcement follows a scientific report last year by [CIRVA], the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, a group of experts appointed by the Mexican government. The report identified as the main threat to the Vaquita the drift gillnets favored by Avila and hundreds of other small fishermen in the region who make their living through their catch of shrimp and fish. The Vaquita become entangled in the nets and drown.

The report listed another growing threat in recent years: lucrative illegal fisheries in the Upper Gulf for another endangered species, the giant Totoaba fish. Tototaba are highly prized in China, where they are believed to have medicinal properties, and can command more than $10,000 per kilo, according to Mexican officials.

Thursday’s ceremony carried a message of increased federal enforcement in the region, which included a heavy presence of Mexican naval personnel and the presentation of Defender-class boats capable of traveling close to 70 miles per hour.

“Enforcement is absolutely critical,” said Barbara Taylor, a conservation biologist with the Southwest Fisheries science center. “It is going to be the critical thing on whether you save the species or not.”

The new measures are not the first by Mexico to preserve the Vaquita, but they go further than previous efforts. These include the prohibition of gill net fishing over an area of close to 1,150 square miles — about six times the size of a Vaquita refuge declared in 2005 where all fishing continues to be banned. The expanded zone covers the entire area where Vaquita have been sighted.

Another step involves the two-year compensation program — payments totaling close to $36 million annually — for fishermen who are forced to give up their gillnets and long hooks, as well as others in the local production chain.

Mexico’s federal government calculates that the compensation program for fishermen in San Felipe and another coastal community, El Golfo de Santa Clara, involves 806 small boats, or pangas, with 1,354 fishing permits (most have two permits). For the next two years, fishermen would receive about 7,000 pesos, or about $460 per month to stay away from their gillnets and long hooks.

“I have never seen the Mexican government put so much money into one species,” said Vidal of the World Wildlife Fund.

Sunshine Rodriguez, who heads the largest fishing federation in San Felipe, was once a staunch opponent of the gill net fishing ban. But he has endorsed the government’s latest plan.

“We don’t want to kill the oceans either,” he said. “We are certain that if there is another way of fishing and they come up with it, we’re going to use it.”

Still, Rodriguez and other fishermen have been resistant to alternative fishing methods being championed by the Mexican government and the conservation community, a light trawl known as a chango ecologico that does not threaten the Vaquita, saying that it uses more gasoline and brings in a smaller catch than the gillnets.

Robles of Noroeste Sustentable said the next two years will buy time for the region, but “to me the big question is what happens after two years; how we define sustainability in the Upper Gulf in the context of the Vaquita and the Totoaba, and also the needs of the community.”’

There have already been multiple Totoaba busts this month. First, two men were chased by police and dropped a backpack containing 90 swim bladders, and more recently, a man and woman were stopped with a large Totoaba on their boat. It is great to already see the enforcement in action, whether or not it is because of the new ban. The Mexican Navy has been given high-velocity Defender speedboats in order to effectively enforce the ban. The boats are capable of incredible speeds even while heavily armed, and it is apparent that they are in the right hands, given that there has already been a bust with one.

Recently, there have been dozens of articles about the latest developments, along with celebration among the conservation community. For the next few weeks, it is best for us citizens to give Mexico some time to see how serious they really are about everything, but while we are waiting, we can work on ending the illegal Totoaba trade. The root of all illegal trading is demand; if we can reduce the demand, there will be no reason to fish for Totoaba. You can spread the word about the situation, talk to your local Chinese food restaurant, and if you or someone you know visits/lives in China, talk to everyone you can and ask them to not buy Totoaba swim bladders or fish maw soup.

Sea Shepherd, an organization made famous by the hit show Whale Wars, has a new mission: Operation Milagro, which means miracle. They have been in the Sea of Cortez for a month, and are dedicated to doing all they can to save the Vaquita.

“We have called this campaign ‘Operation Milagro’ because, taking into account the staggeringly small number of Vaquitas left, sadly it would be nothing short of a miracle to see one swimming in the sea today,” said Captain Oona Layolle.

Well believe it or not, on the very next day, for the first time since 2013, Operation Milagro did just that.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
—Margaret Mead

 

Crunch time

Vaquita conservation may never be the same. In a recent study, a remarkable discovery was made: the Vaquita, always considered to be a true porpoise, is actually more closely related to fish in the Psychrolutidae family, also known as blobfishes.

April fools! I’m sure most of you didn’t fall for that… Vaquita are still 100% mammals (and porpoises). On a more serious note, the 2-year ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s range officially begins TODAY, April 1 (this was not actually the case. The ban was delayed once again, but officially began on April 10, and is set to go into effect on April 28.) It is unfortunate that it took until now for it to start, but there is no point of harping on the past. The ban has started, and now it is crunch time for us. We need to keep the pressure on with petitions (see previous post) to make sure they strictly enforce the ban. The recovery of the Vaquita begins NOW.

Here’s a great video in Spanish (with English subtitles) by Greenpeace with some wonderful visuals!

International Save the Vaquita Day 2015 is officially July 11, and you can read more about it here: http://www.vivavaquita.org/international-save-the-vaquita-day.htmlISTVD Logo The International A-Team for Wildlife is an organization dedicated to educating the public about endangered animals and encouraging youth to participate in conservation. The group has a select “A-Team,” a group of 18 kids from around the world that have extensive experience and accomplishments in wildlife conservation. I am honored to be one of those 18 kids! http://www.a-teamforwildlife.org/international-team/ AidanB-ProfilePic

We can save the Vaquita! If we work together, we can keep gillnets out of their range…for good.

Even more good news!

Happy Friday! As if you need any cheering up on a Friday, I have even more good news to go along with the new 2-year gillnet ban.

After 40 years, the United States has finally made the decision to ban all seafood imports that are not marine-mammal safe. The ultimate form of a boycott, not only will this save hundreds of thousands of marine mammals from unnecessary death, it will encourage Mexican fishermen to switch to safe nets due to the increased demand of sustainable seafood by the US. Read the full article, http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/26080, below:

“In a landmark settlement reached yesterday, more than 650,000 whales, dolphins and other “bycatch” from fishing will be saved from accidental killing.

Despite US efforts to protect marine mammals in its own waters, we continue to import seafood from countries that don’t abide by our laws.

The lawsuit forces the US government to adopt long overdue policies that ban imports from those countries. All countries we import from will have to meet the same marine mammal protection standards required of US fishermen – a 40-year-old provision of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Fishing gear is the most significant threat to whale and dolphin populations worldwide. For example, Vaquita – the world’s smallest porpoise – is close to extinction because so many are caught in Mexico’s shrimp gillnets. There are only 97 left. Under the new policy, that shrimp would be barred from entering the US until fishing fleets meet standards that protect Vaquita.

Vaquita

“This law provides real, enforceable protections for marine mammals and sets up an even playing field that allows our fishermen to be competitive in the US market. If we’d had these standards 40 years ago, we wouldn’t be scrambling today to save the imperiled Vaquita. Thankfully, if this law is implemented, other species won’t share their fate,” says Zak Smith of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Americans eat 5 billion pounds of seafood each year, about 90% of which is imported and half, wild-caught.

The settlement in the US Court of International Trade is on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and Natural Resources Defense Council. The US government has until 2016 to develop standards that imports must meet.

It’s supported by an executive order on oceans from President Obama last year, which takes aim at rampant seafood fraud and the global black market fish trade. He directed federal agencies to develop a comprehensive program that deters illegal fishing and prevents illegally caught fish from entering the US marketplace (20-32% of all wild-caught seafood!).

Global Fishing Watch will be there to help by exposing illegal practices and creating a deterrent to breaking the law.”

This new law will tie in very nicely with all of VIVA Vaquita and the Muskwa Club’s plans during the new 2-year ban. All of these new developments, if well-implemented, might have come just in time to save the Vaquita.

If we can save the Vaquita through sustainable fishing, we are showing the world that we can coexist with animals without one or the other suffering. Also, it will be an example of what can be done to save a species, inspiring other conservationists to not give up. So what I’m saying is, not only does it matter for the Vaquita itself, but saving this species will have timeless global implications.

Greenpeace’s petition was a big part of this new ban, garnering over 320,000(!) signatures, each one sending a letter directly to the President of Mexico. But they made an important point:

“There are some missing measures that must be included for this [2-year ban] to be fully effective. The most important is to strengthen surveillance and enforcement. Illegal gillnetting in the Vaquita habitat is common and must be eliminated. We’re also urging the Mexican government to make this a permanent ban on gillnet fishing.

By the end of this month the proposal will have passed through consultation and be ready for a final draft. This doesn’t mean the campaign is over, as there may be more campaigning needed… there’s a big difference between what’s written on paper and what happens on the water.”

It is wonderful to have such a big powerhouse organization like Greenpeace fighting for the Vaquita.

Each day I get more confident that we really will save this species.