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

#ISTVD2015 is tomorrow!

The biggest day of the year for the Vaquita is tomorrow!ISTVD Logo

International Save the Vaquita Day – Saturday, July 11, 2015

Last year, Saturday, July 12, 2014 was designated as International Save the Vaquita Day! This is intended to be an annual event similar to Earth Day, but with a specific focus on raising awareness and appreciation of the world’s most endangered marine mammal, the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus). Events around the globe directed the attention of people to the plight of this tiny porpoise species, and what needs to be done to save it from extinction. There were booths, games, music, free prizes, educational brochures, educational talks, face painting, and several life-size models of vaquitas on hand to draw attention to and appreciation of the Vaquita, Mexico’s “Panda of the Sea.” This year, ISTVD is on July 11, 2015 (tomorrow!).

Where did the event start?

In 2013, the first-ever Save the Vaquita Day was held on July 4th weekend, but this year the event went international! The event was initiated by the Muskwa Club, with the collaboration of VIVA Vaquita, Save the Whales, the American Cetacean Society (ACS), and several other partner organizations.

What is the goal?

The primary goal is to make as many people as possible aware of the Vaquita and its plight, and spur them to act. The species is nearly extinct, with only about 80 individuals left, and declining at almost 19% per year! We will have a simple message for folks about what they can do to help (either full support for the Mexican Government, or support for a boycott and embargo of Mexican seafood – depending on Mexico’s actions in the next couple of months). Secondary goals are to gather signatures for our petitions to the Mexican government, and also to raise additional funds for future educational and research work on the Vaquita. The event is designed to be fun, as well as educational, and kid-friendly!

Contact Us if you would like to participate.

Confirmed 2015 Events & Locations:

ISTVD tables

Yesterday, on July 9, there was a rally in Washington D.C. outside of the Mexican Embassy building. The event was a great success, and many volunteers came out to show support for Mexico’s recent actions but stressed that more still needs to be done. Learn more here.

I will be having a table tomorrow at the Franklin Institute, which I am super excited about! Please come out to one of the tables above if you are in the area, and show your support for the world’s most endangered marine mammal!

 

Letter

A great way to help the Vaquita is to write a letter to someone in the U.S. Government. I wrote a template that you can use (just add the info in the underlined areas.) Feel free to send it to anyone in the U.S. Government (that was who it was directed to when I wrote it.) I suggest sending it to someone such as your state representatives or senator. Or even Barack or Mitt (wait till after the election. 🙂 Once you send it, by email or snailmail, you will feel good about yourself for helping. I guarantee it.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear ______________,

I am ______________ from ________, _________, and I ask for your attention.

In the Gulf of California, Mexico, the water is clean and the sea life thrives. That is, except for the Vaquita.

The Vaquita is a tiny porpoise (4.5 ft. long) that only lives in the extreme northern tip of the Gulf of California. And there are only 200 left. This makes the Vaquita the most endangered marine mammal in the world, and it is a mere few hour drive from the United States.

Extinction was always an abstract term for conservationists, until it actually happened to the Baiji river dolphin from the Yangtze River, China, in 2007. This extinction was the first ever for a cetacean (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) during our existence. Now that we already lost one species, another could be very near.

The rare Vaquita is declining so rapidly due to accidental entanglement in gillnets set out for fish and shrimp, called by-catch.

Gillnet by-catch is the only threat to the Vaquita, so it is pretty obvious what needs to be done: get those nets out of the water.

The Mexican Government has lately been very helpful with assisting the Vaquita organizations in getting the fishermen to stop using gillnets in that part of the Gulf. Some efforts that have been made include: the creation of the Biosphere Reserve in 1993 and the Vaquita Refuge in 2005, which makes it illegal to fish in the covered areas. Although these areas do not completely cover the Vaquita’s range, they provide important legal framework that will be very useful in the future. A program called the buy-out was recently put into use that provides incentives to fishermen who voluntarily give up fishing to an alternative livelihood, such as ecotourism or a local business. The buy-out program has something called the switch-out, in where the fishermen are given alternative fishing methods that are Vaquita-safe instead of gillnets.

Fishing is, by far, the main livelihood in the local towns of the Gulf, so it will be very difficult to stop gillnet fishing. But it must be done. The Biosphere Reserve and Vaquita Refuge must be expanded and their laws enforced. More work needs to be done on creating Vaquita-safe fishing gear to be put into use as soon as possible. More education of the Vaquita is needed for the fishermen and the general public. More time and money needs to be put into rewarding and assisting the fishermen who voluntarily change livelihoods.

Mexico has done its part. Now it’s our turn. I ask you to assist and support Mexico in their efforts to help this little porpoise, because the world cannot afford another extinction. Not here. I ask you to save the Vaquita.

Sincerely,

____________________

http://www.vivavaquita.org

Diet

The Vaquita eats a wide range of small fish and squid. All of the 17 fish species that have been found in Vaquita stomachs can be classified as Demersal and/or Benthic species living in relatively shallow water in the northern Gulf of California.

PROREMARCO

A huge breakthrough was just made: this year, fishermen have received the ability to apply to the shrimp farm PROREMARCO as an alternative livelihood. This is, in a sense, another buy-out option. As in all buy-out categories, fishermen entering PROREMARCO must surrender at least one fishing permit, the boat, and fishing gear associated to it. CONANP has determined that this project needs a minimum of 62 applications to be economically viable. If you are or know any Gulf fishermen, please inform them on this subject.

Other names

Some other names for the Vaquita are Cochito, Gulf of California Harbor Porpoise, Gulf of California Porpoise, Gulf Porpoise, Hafenschweinswal, and Marsouin du Golfe de Californie.