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!

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Legend

*Based on a Mexican legend

Many years ago,
In the land of Mexico,
Some warriors with magic powers
Could shape-shift to and fro.

They used these powers to protect their lands
Of fine women and mariachi bands.
The lives of every villager
Were in these people’s hands.

One of these few men
Had the name Water Coyote.
He would sit down on the grass
And calmly eat peyote.

He could morph into an animal that dwells in the great sea.
Smaller than a man;
Ends with A and starts with V.

Or he could turn to a coyote, with heart, brain, and soul.
And howled to the moon
In a sky as black as coal.

He loved his people above all things,
And got the rewards
That being kind brings.

One day he got out of bed,
An arrow of war sailed overhead.
He rushed home to see a battle—
His men were being killed like cattle.

He fought with his brothers for seven days and nights.
Everyone of them died, and
He ran away with all his might.

Crying the whole way home,
He eventually found his village.
They were very glad to see him,
But he told them of the pillage.

They cried through the night,
Weeping until dawn.
Mourning their lost men
Till they saw the sun.

Coyote then took every last person
Down to the salty ocean.
He gathered smooth blue rocks;
They pondered this commotion.

He placed one stone
‘Neath the tongue of ev’ry boy and girl.
And, one by one, they entered the water,
Transforming in a swirl.

They all became Vaquita,
Their spirits joined their brothers’.
They still live to this day,
But might not live another.

Lifeless

The boat rocked with every rolling current

As I slowly fed my net into the swirling aqua sea.

I watched as the floats drifted off,

Knowing the next time I would touch them,

I would be hauling hundreds of shrimp onto this deck.

I leaned against the cabin window,

Arms crossed.

I thought of my beautiful family:

My wife and son.

This was for them.

A large mob of gulls swarmed around the boat:

There must have been something in the water.

Spitting tobacco overboard, I began to pull in the net.

Inch by inch,

Foot by foot.

It was too late.

She was already gone.

A dead Vaquita lay mangled in the mesh,

Lifeless and dripping in blood from the lacerations.

I sat down on the deck and began to cry.