Three live Vaquitas spotted!

Last month’s headline was “Three dead Vaquitas found.”

In a very welcome twist of fate, this month’s headline is the exact opposite.

From April 11 to 14, Drs. Barbara Taylor and Jay Barlow joined the crew of the Sea Shepherd M/Y Farley Mowat. Their goal was to spot Vaquitas, and they accomplished this goal in a big way. Between April 12 and 13, they spotted three separate Vaquitas, igniting even more optimism and hope for the future of this species.

However, these three individuals were seen in areas that are known to currently host rampant illegal fishing activity.

Click here to read more.

Sea Shepherd also used a drone to spot poachers using a gillnet at night. The fishermen quickly fled (their location was relayed to the Mexican Navy) and left their net behind, which Sea Shepherd retrieved from the water. Two scalloped hammerhead sharks and four cownose rays were already entangled, and unfortunately, the endangered hammerheads could not be saved. Since January, Sea Shepherd has removed 40 illegal gillnets and 13 longlines from the Vaquita’s range.

Sadly, Sea Shepherd is departing from the Gulf of California in the first week of May.

They will be arriving in San Diego on May 6, and we would like to give them a global “thank you” celebration for all of the amazing work they have done, and to show them that their efforts in the northern Gulf are highly appreciated (and desired again in the very near future). More updates to come on this.

From May 10 to 14, the 7th meeting of CIRVA, the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, will take place. The focus of this meeting will be the publication of the latest population estimate, based on acoustic surveys and the fall 2015 expedition.

A new course of action will be discussed based on this new estimate, and we all hope that the number is higher than expected/feared.

Regardless of the new population estimate, we will continue our efforts will full force. Our main goal is for the Mexican government to agree to our petition to make the gillnet ban permanent, and we can’t accomplish this without your help. Please sign and share this petition. For the Vaquita.

tinyurl.com/vaquitaban

Petition Poster

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Miracle on the water!

Yesterday I posted that the Vaquita Expedition had just begun. Well, only 5 days in, and something incredible has already happened. Check out Dr. Barb Taylor’s message from only a few hours ago:

“So, the news will be out soon so I think I can let you Vaquita fans know. We saw 3 Vaquitas yesterday. Minister Pacchiano was due to come for an enforcement meeting in San Felipe and had a big visit orchestrated with the governor of Baja, the head of fisheries nationally (Mario Aguilar) and in Baja, a huge number of Navy brass, and the head of Profepa. Juan Carlos suggested that we go back to the spot we saw Vaquita yesterday to try to see them again. To make a long story short…we did (see 3 Vaquitas…Juan Carlos sighting) and I got the Minister on a pair of big eyes to see Vaquitas…and even Aguilar saw Vaquitas!

Just amazing! Those Vaquitas knew how important this was. They stayed in one place for about 20 minutes. They were still tiny triangles, but that just made the dignitaries all the more amazed that we found them.

I rode back in the super fast Navy boat with the governor of Baja in the co-pilot seat and pitched him the importance of making Baja a global example of solving the gillnet problem and working with California to develop markets to support Vaquita-friendly seafood. He basically translated that in the press conference that followed.

Needless to say…we’re all pretty excited. What are the odds?”

-Barb

I hope this remarkable and inspirational event is an indicator of things to come on this ever-important survey.

If similar advancements are made in the near future, this expedition may prove to be the most pivotal moment in the fight to save this little porpoise.

Viva Vaquita!

Maria Cleofas

 

Cooking to save the Vaquita: Part 2

Part 1: https://vlogvaquita.com/2013/10/26/cooking-to-save-the-vaquita/

I strongly believe that the best way to help the Vaquita is to promote sustainable seafood (and promote the Vaquita as you are doing it). As Barbara Taylor said in this article, “Fishermen are more likely to convert to Vaquita-friendly fishing gear if there is market incentive to do so.”

What is sustainable fishing in terms of the Vaquita? I think of it in 3 levels; Worst: Gillnet-caught from Vaquita’s range, Good: Anything else, and Best: Vaquita-friendly trawl from the Vaquita’s range. The reason this is the best is because not only are you not supporting gillnets, you are supporting their ‘rival,’ giving them “market incentive to convert to Vaquita-friendly fishing gear.” Of course, you generally don’t just find Vaquita-friendly shrimp in the grocery store, except for maybe very close to the Vaquita’s range, and even if you do, how do you know it is actually Vaquita-safe? So with this in mind, how are you supposed to support Vaquita-friendly shrimp if you can’t find any? The answer is shrimp festivals:

“WWF Mexico, with funds from the US Marine Mammal Commission and several private foundations are planning a series of events to promote Vaquita-safe seafood. The hope is that this will do for Vaquita what ‘dolphin-safe’ labeling on cans of tuna did for millions of dolphins in the eastern Pacific. These events will feature top chefs serving Vaquita-safe shrimp alongside Vaquita wine. The idea is to connect the fishermen who are sustainably harvesting seafood with outlets that cater to conscientious consumers, and rewarding those fishermen with a bit higher price for their value-added product. The events will need planning, labor, and folks to enjoy the food.”

Barbara Taylor

These events are incredibly important ways to help the Vaquita, and are completely accessible to the general public. The amazing group San Felipe Pescados y Mariscos recently had one of these events in Mexico. This group is doing exactly what needs to be done for the Vaquita: monitor and promote sustainable seafood from the Upper Gulf of California, including Vaquita-friendly labeling. If you can, please attend these kinds of events, show the fishermen that we do appreciate their efforts to save the Vaquita, and enjoy some of the best shrimp there is.

But what if you have my problem: location? There are still ways to support sustainable fishing without visiting a Vaquita-friendly shrimp festival near the Vaquita. The best is to make your own Vaquita-friendly seafood dish (remember my list above; if it says wild-caught in Mexico, don’t risk it. Though it could be Vaquita-safe, there is a higher chance it was gillnet-caught). Create your own recipe, or pick any of the endless dishes online or in cookbooks. Use Seafood Watch (or their great app) as your guide to make the right choices for your meal’s ingredients. Once you finish making your delicious dish, please send some pictures of it to me at gl.tamarin123@gmail.com so I can spread it around the Vaquita community! Please, share this with your friends so we can make this a really big movement!

Here is my holiday Shrimp Scampi with MSC-certified sustainable shrimp. It tasted beyond amazing!

Shrimp Scampi

American Cetacean Society

The American Cetacean Society is one of the leaders in Vaquita conservation. Founded in 1967 and comprised of 7 chapters and a Student Coalition, they are the world’s first organization dedicated to saving whales. Here are the links to the chapters:

Los Angeles
Monterey Bay
Orange County
Puget Sound
San Diego
San Francisco Bay
Oregon
Student Coalition

The Monterey Bay Chapter was one of the 3 founding members of ¡Viva Vaquita!, and the Los Angeles Chapter has been an extremely helpful ally to the Muskwa Club. The American Cetacean Society has two publications, the quarterly newsletter, Spyhopper, and the biannual, theme-specific Whalewatcher. In 2010 they published a Whalewatcher about porpoises, especially the Vaquita. The two most recent Spyhoppers also featured amazing articles about the Vaquita:

Viva Vaquita by Ayla Glim, Pages 6-8: http://acsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/SpyhopperQtr2-2013-FINAL_2.pdf

Vaquita, Net Gains and Net Losses by Barbara Taylor, Pages 1-5: http://acsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Spyhopper-Nov.-2013.pdf

The November issue shocked me with these few paragraphs!

“For the first time since I’ve been working with Vaquita there are some concrete steps that people from outside Mexico can do (or will be able to soon), and here are three things you can do to help:

1. Support Vaquita-safe seafood products
Fishermen are more likely to convert to Vaquita-friendly fishing gear if there is market incentive to do so. WWF Mexico (http://wwf.panda.org/who_we_are/wwf_offices/mexico/?208988/Mexico-approves-measure-to-save-worlds-rarestmarine-mammal) with funds from the US Marine Mammal Commission and several private foundations are planning a series of events to promote Vaquita-safe seafood. The hope is that this will do for Vaquita what ‘dolphin-safe’ labeling on cans of tuna did for millions of dolphins in the eastern Pacific. These events will feature top chefs serving Vaquita-safe shrimp alongside Vaquita wine. The idea is to connect the fishermen who are sustainably harvesting seafood with outlets that cater to conscientious consumers, and rewarding those fishermen with a bit higher price for their value-added product. The events will need planning, labor, and folks to enjoy the food.

2. Establish and support grassroots education and fund-raising campaigns
There is a need for educating the public about Vaquita. Last year saw the first “Save the Vaquita Day” initiated by a grassroots effort by elementary, middle and high school students of the Muskwa Club founded in Long Beach, California https://sites.google.com/site/muskwaclub/ with the support from several ACS chapters. The Muskwa Club even made a nice video, which can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zj3T724txo4. This tri-coastal campaign reached thousands of people through Vaquita events and we can hope that this effort grows. These events and future plans can be seen on the website above and in the ACSLA Chapter report. The group ¡Viva Vaquita! (http://www.vivavaquita.org/) also continues to attend events and do programs in schools to raise awareness, and has just distributed educational brochures and coloring books to schools near the fishing port of San Felipe, Mexico. A kindergarten class at Frances Parker School in San Diego adopted Vaquita as their special project and raised funds. The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/), can accept funds by sending checks to Frances Gulland at their address with a note that the funds are for saving Vaquita. A few times a year, TMMC will transfer those funds to support WWF-Mexico projects aimed at training shrimp fishermen in the northern Gulf how to use alternative gear. Vaquita.tv continues to be an excellent source of on-line information and a great place to send people who want to learn more about Vaquita and the people’s needs in the northern Gulf.

3. Stay informed; stay involved
The other important role for cetacean fans is to be avid (even pesky!) consumers and purveyors of Vaquita information. Both the IUCN and the Society for Marine Mammalogy have repeatedly written letters to the Mexican government – but letters from other concerned citizens and organizations are needed to keep this issue on the front burner in Mexico. Vaquita needs an informed fan base to keep its status in the spotlight, to make clear that there is international interest in fate of this hapless porpoise, and that the eyes of the world are on Mexico over this issue. An inspirational example of citizen involvement is Aidan Bodeo-Lomicky, a 13-year old boy from Pennsylvania who has just written a book and maintains a blog https://vlogvaquita.com/ on Vaquita conservation!”

The Muskwa Club and I are very excited and grateful to see these new progressions (and the shout outs!), as well as all of the work the ACS has done in its legendary history. Please consider donating to them: http://acsonline.org/support-acs/donate-online/, as well as the ACSLA’s Vaquita switch-out fund by sending a check to P.O. Box 1208, San Pedro, CA 90733-1208. It is very important that you write “Vaquita” on the memo line for it to go to the switch-out.

Perspective

This weekend I did a lot of catch-and-release fishing with my cousins in Barnegat, New Jersey, where I was able to witness firsthand many fish and almost as many ways to catch them. We caught at least 35 fish from 5 different species.

The experience was interesting for me in a few ways. First, I learned a lot about fishing. Since this exact activity is what is wiping out the Vaquita, an animal that I am dedicating a large portion of my life to, I want to learn everything I can about the other side of the duel. When I am getting ready for a tennis tournament, I don’t just work on my own game, I also study my opponent and how he plays. We need to do the same exact thing for the Vaquita vs. Fishermen matchup. That means listening to the fishermen. They are not our enemy. They are just humans doing their job. Unfortunately, their job is wiping out an entire species. We need to fully understand both sides of the dilemma in order to solve it. I have been researching a lot about gillnets, pangas, and everything about fishing in the Gulf. The simple answer is: they will not be able to stop fishing, so we need to get them to use Vaquita-safe gear. Fortunately, as you probably know, the Mexican government has announced that all shrimp gillnets will be switched to Vaquita-safe trawls within the next 3 years. Albeit a huge step, it is only the first of many needed to save the Vaquita.

The second way the experience was interesting was the sheer number of animals that we pulled out of a small bay during a few hours of fishing. At least 35. Or a flock of starlings I saw on the ground today of at least 200 birds. I then realized how vulnerable the number 200 is when you are talking about population. That flock of birds could fly into a reflective glass building and be gone. Just like that. There are at most 200 Vaquitas left on the planet. Gillnets are the Vaquita’s reflective glass building. Theoretically, the Vaquita could go extinct tonight. But hopefully they are still here tomorrow, so we can get to work on getting every last gillnet out of the Gulf of California and hanging them up forever.

The third way it was interesting is that I was able to put myself in the fishermen’s shoes. I pretended that I was a fisherman and that I needed to catch fish in order to feed my family. It really changed my perspective on the situation. I realized how fishing is anything but a hobby for the Gulf fishermen. It is absolutely a job, and a competitive one at that. As leading Vaquita expert Barbara Taylor once said of fishing in the Gulf, “If you don’t catch any shrimp, your neighbor will.” When I put myself in the fishermen’s situation, there was a new urgency to catch each fish, and I can only imagine what the pressure is like in real life. If I were them, I would use the best gear possible and nothing else. Fortunately, the Vaquita-safe trawls are as effective as gillnets, but more expensive. We need more awareness, therefore money, towards the Vaquita and the switch-out program. So please, spread the word and raise money in any way you can possibly think of. I would love to hear your ideas and questions in the comments section. Thank you!