Let’s do this!

As I am sure you know by now if you have read some of my previous posts, Mexico made a new law (called the Official Norm) that requires all shrimp gillnets to be switched out with Vaquita-safe trawls within the next 3 years. This is obviously enormous news, so even some of the major groups wrote articles about it, among them the WWF, the organization whose petition caused the law to be created in the first place.

However, few to no articles talk about what happens next.

This law is only affecting shrimp gillnets, because they are the only ones who have a Vaquita-safe substitute so far. Finfishing gillnets pose just as big, if not bigger, of a threat to the Vaquita, so they obviously need to be replaced as well. Currently, there are Vaquita-safe finfishing trawls being developed and tested, so hopefully they prove effective and can be implemented in the Gulf as well within the next couple of years, before it is too late.

The other part of the puzzle with this law is the cooperation of the fishermen and the commitment of the government. We are all hoping that the government really does follow through with this plan and succeeds, and from what I can tell, they mean business with this law. They really do want to save the Vaquita, and I believe they will as long as one factor falls into place: the fishermen.

In the end, it is all up to the fishermen. No matter how strict the government gets, the fishermen will be able to slip through their grasp and fish illegally. That is, if the fishermen would rather risk it all just to fish with gillnets. The law plans to train each fishermen on how to use the trawls and compensate them, meaning there is no real loss for the fishermen that participate in this mandatory law. The trawls are a lot more expensive than gillnets, so the government is going to need to use a lot of their tax dollars to make it happen. If you are a Gulf fishermen, please do the right thing and follow the law. Participate in the Official Norm, and tell every other fishermen to do the same. If you live in Mexico, know that every item you buy with tax could be helping save one of your national icons.

You. Yes, you sitting there reading this post. I want you to help this law succeed too. First off, DO NOT BUY FISH OR SHRIMP FROM THE GULF OF CALIFORNIA CAUGHT WITH GILLNETS! If there is no business, there will be no reason to fish. The next thing to do is sign my new and improved petition to the Mexican president, SEMARNAT, and PROFEPA, which asks them to do the things I wrote about in this post:

http://www.change.org/petitions/save-the-elusive-vaquita

Thank you so much for your help! If you would like to learn everything you can about the Vaquita while also donating to the species, please buy the first ever Vaquita book, written by me, here: https://www.createspace.com/4268018.

Together, we can save the Vaquita. Let’s do this!

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!

It’s not time to let go

Okay, so I found a link to an article in a New York Times blog post. The article, here, by Erik Vance, is on an extremely personal and controversial topic:

Should we let the Vaquita go extinct?

I had to close my eyes and calmy inhale to even make it through the article. The answer is absolutely, positively, no way in the world, not in a million years, no. He says that perhaps we should let the Vaquita go in order to get the fishermen on board with saving other endangered species of the Gulf. I am not sure if/how that would even work, but there is no way that the scientists and conservationists who have worked on saving the Vaquita for their entire careers would just let the Vaquita ‘slip away.’ I am not arguing with the fact that the Vaquita is in a tough situation right now, and that there has been phenomenal effort by the Mexican government to seemingly little avail. I am not arguing with the fact that the Vaquita is a life-changing ‘nuisance’ to the fishermen that they will likely never see in their entire lives, yet they have been very cooperative with NGOs and the government for the most part.

But this is about the big picture. The Vaquita cannot be a canary in a coal mine. It is not an option for us to learn from our mistakes on the Vaquita. We have already lost the Baiji because of human activities. Those beautiful dolphins were sacrificed so we could learn what not to do with an endangered species. The Vaquita is the test. If we can save the Vaquita, we can do anything. Tigers, pandas, rhinos, polar bears, and every other endangered species can benefit from us saving the Vaquita, not letting it go extinct. The Baiji has already filled that role.

It is also about the little picture. The Vaquita simply deserves to live. If you were born before 1958, then the Vaquita was discovered in your lifetime. Now it could go extinct within the next few years. Your life could completely encompass our knowledge of the existence of an entire species. We definitely do not want that. The Vaquita as an animal is extremely unique. We will absolutely never have a species like the Vaquita again if we lose Phocoena sinus.

So the real question is, “Now that we know the Vaquita can’t go extinct, how are we going to save it?” In June, an enormous step was taken by the Mexican government in the form of a new regulation that will phase out all shrimp gillnets to Vaquita-safe trawls within the next 3 years. This is great news, but this doesn’t mean our work here is done. The government still has to pull through with their promise, as well as develop safe trawls for finfish, not just shrimp. For now, you can help the Vaquita by raising awareness, not buying seafood caught in gillnets, and raising money towards the switch-out program. For more details, visit https://vlogvaquita.com/2013/07/14/update-the-big-3/.

So my point is, there is no way we can give up, especially after all this time and effort. This is where we need to explore the limits of human teamwork to save something that’s not a human. The Vaquita has never done anything to us, so why should we accept murdering every last one? This adorable, innocent little porpoise deserves every drop of blood, sweat, and tears we can squeeze out of ourselves. And even if the Vaquita does eventually go extinct, I could not live with myself knowing that we didn’t try our hardest to rescue it.

We need to at least, as my tennis coach would say, go down swinging.

Poll

If you haven’t noticed, I added a poll to the right sidebar below the tag cloud, created using the cool program Polldaddy. It is a pretty simple poll, so please take the time to answer it and view the results. Your input is greatly appreciated as it gives me and others an idea of what the common opinion is on this whole issue. The results might even be useful for a persuasive letter or petition.

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.