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

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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

Three dead Vaquitas found

A Vaquita conservationist’s biggest fear is the death of one of these magnificent creatures. This month, we are living the nightmare.

Three dead Vaquitas have been found in the past few weeks.

March madness indeed. Based on lacerations found during the autopsies, it is apparent that gillnet entanglement is the likely cause of death for these animals. Of course, this means that there is still illegal fishing happening, and that said fishing is killing Vaquitas, a species that cannot afford to lose even one individual.

The mortality rate of Vaquitas needs to be zero. For this to happen, enforcement needs to be stepped up permanently, fishing communities need to be educated and aided with sustainable fishing, and Totoaba swim bladder demand in Asia needs to be reduced.

To convince the Mexican government to take action on these issues, please sign this petition:

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

Thanks to a much-needed increase in enforcement (by both the government and NGOs) in the past year, it is not too late to save the Vaquita. However, it is awfully close to it.

Here is a translated statement from PROFEPA:

“Faced with the possibility that these specimens died in gillnets or because of human activities, authorities will intensify inspection activities and night, land, and sea surveillance, especially at sites identified as Totoaba networks; in addition to seeking a rapprochement with the fishing guild to sensitize its members to refrain from poaching activities and forbidden arts.”
We need to make sure that they stand behind these words. On the human side of the effort, things are much better than they were a few years ago, but the Vaquita is still just a death or two away from eternal doom. Now isn’t the time to be casual or lax.

Now is the time to act decisively.

Dead Vaquita found by Sea Shepherd

Dead Vaquita found by Sea Shepherd

Petition and Thunderclap progress report

I can’t believe how successful our petition to make the gillnet ban permanent and our social media Thunderclap campaign have become in such a short amount of time!

We started these campaigns about a month ago, and could have never predicted the sheer number of people that would support them.

Here are the statistics:

Campaign Stats

In other news, PROFEPA and Sea Shepherd have been making tremendous progress in ban enforcement and net confiscation. Despite inclement weather, dozens of Totoaba nets have been retrieved from the water, and multiple poacher arrests have been made in recent weeks. It is wonderful to see the Mexican government working closely with NGOs to accomplish a mutually desired goal!

If you haven’t already, please sign our petition and Thunderclap! Thank you.

Petition

Thunderclap

New Vaquita art

Here is a poem that I wrote for an upcoming poetry competition focused on ocean pollution:

THE NETS WE FORGET

The dark gray sky casts its shadow on the sea,
The sea swells with the wind, whipping up froth.
Thunder booms among the rolling clouds;
Lightning flashes in the distance,
But underneath, it is calm.
The muffled sound of the storm above dances off the coral.
Small reef fish swarm in and out of nooks and crannies.
All seems fine at first, but there is something wrong here.
A ghost enters the scene.
A nearly invisible drifter.
A gillnet.
But this fishing net does not belong to anybody.
It has been abandoned,
But its job is not done.
This ghost still has lives to take.
First comes a shrimp,
A puny pink prawn:
Gone.
His life ends and is doomed to drift away,
Trapped forever.
Next is a fish.
A huge one at that.
He swims right into the net,
And in the blink of an eye,
The life leaves his body.
A little porpoise swims through the shallows,
Bubbles dancing down her side.
She’s teaching her baby how to fish.
They happen upon a juicy meal,
But as the mother darts towards the target,
She is struck by a web of death.
The fish they were chasing
Was already a victim.
The baby, terrified, watches as her mother writhes in agony.
And the ghost has taken yet another life.

Here is a double exposure image, made from a Vaquita photograph and an ocean sunset photograph that I combined using digital software:Vaquita Double Exposure

And here is a mosaic of a Vaquita made out of hundreds of photographs taken during International Save the Vaquita Days 2014 & 2015:

ISTVD Mosaic

International Save the Vaquita Day has become a huge event, and one that has been—and will continue to be—making a legitimate difference for the Vaquita and its survival. Showing the people and government of Mexico that the world cares about the Vaquita and appreciates their efforts to date will hopefully inspire them to follow through with their promises and actually save this species. To make ISTVD 2016 the biggest one yet, help ignite the buzz and donate to the event by buying a cool ISTVD 2016 t-shirt!

https://www.booster.com/international-save-the-vaquita-day-2016

Folktale

This is a folktale I wrote for one of my Literature classes. Please enjoy:

“SOME TIME AGO, in a time of great poverty, the people of El Golfo de Santa Clara, Mexico were in desperate need of money. Every day, the children would go out onto the dirt roads and search for coins, and the mothers would take off time from maintaining their homes to open fruit and vegetable stands in the village. But even with all of this, they still did not have enough money.

So the men had to go out on their little fishing boats with their nets to catch fish or shrimp. Slowly, the village became more and more wealthy. They were catching so many shrimp that they couldn’t even sell all of them! The entire village ate seafood every day, and times had never been better. The town started building bigger houses, and everyone sang and danced at night.

Occasionally, however, they would catch something in their nets called a Vaquita, a magical porpoise. It was so rare that most villagers did not even believe it existed. Seeing one was considered to be a good omen, but catching one was not. If you killed a Vaquita, you would be cursed with bad luck for a week. The fishermen could not let this risk keep them from fishing, however.

One day, a man caught a Vaquita. Afraid of getting bad luck, he threw the dead porpoise back into the water. Later that day, he was walking down the street and tripped over a rock. He broke both his wrists, rendering him useless as a fisherman for a long time. He was devastated, but in the back of his mind he knew that it was from catching that poor Vaquita.

A different man also caught a Vaquita, but he kept it onboard to bring it home to sell for meat. He was afraid that he would be cursed, but a few days went by without anything happening. Then one morning, when he went outside, he was shocked to see that all the houses were tiny again, all the tourists and buyers were gone, and the children were back in the streets picking up coins. The women were once more solemnly selling fruit and vegetables on the street corners. He saw a man who had broken wrists.

“Hello, sir. What happened to your wrists?”

“I caught a Vaquita, and on the same day I fell and broke my wrists.”

“I caught a Vaquita too, and now the entire village is poor again,” the man said. He knew that it was his fault.

But then the men got an idea. They went out in a boat to look for a Vaquita. After a while, they saw one of the beautiful creatures. It had its baby with it, which reminded the men of their families. They realized that the Vaquita deserved to live just as much as they did. With this realization, they returned to their village to share the news of the magical encounter. When they arrived, they were shocked by what they saw.

Everybody was dancing in the streets again. Their houses were bigger than ever. There were tables of rich meats, fruits, vegetables, and grains everywhere, and the entire village was cheering.

“God has given us back our wealth! Praise the Lord!”

The two men looked at each other. They knew that their encounter had caused this.

“Attention everybody! Today we saw a Vaquita with its baby. They were not in our net, but free, swimming in the ocean. This is how Vaquitas are meant to be seen. We must stop catching them with our nets. All of Earth’s creatures deserve to live, just like us. We got even more wealth from looking at those Vaquitas then we did when we caught them!”

The entire village went quiet. They all whispered to each other about what they just heard. “If we stop fishing and show people the Vaquita instead, we will be even richer! God wants us to protect His creatures!”

From that day on, the people of El Golfo de Santa Clara showed others the wonderful Vaquita, and they all lived happily ever after.”

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