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

Cooking to save the Vaquita

It is no secret that gillnets are the only danger to the Vaquita’s population. It has been that way for as long as we have known about the endemic little porpoise. So it should be quite clear what needs to happen in order to save it: get the gillnets out of the Vaquita’s range. A huge step in making this a reality is completely eliminating the purchasing of gillnet-caught seafood from the Gulf of California. The Gulf’s principal exporter is the company Ocean Garden, and the people there are big on Vaquita conservation and even founded the group Alto Golfo Sustentable (Sustainable Upper Gulf). Here is a quote from one of their newsletters:

“As a founding member of the sustainability group Alto Golfo Sustentable, Ocean Garden has taken a leadership role to protect the endangered vaquita marina porpoise and the Sea of Cortez environment, improve the efficiency of the shrimp fishery and support the native fishermen.”

It is extremely important and comforting that the primary marketer of the Gulf’s shrimp prioritizes Vaquita conservation. This should mean that the only gillnet-caught shrimp from the Gulf is for self-sustenance or local markets. However, it is thought that up to 80% of the Gulf’s shrimp is exported to the United States. It is therefore vital that we support sustainable fishing for two reasons: first, to save the ocean (the whole point of sustainable fishing), and second, to encourage the gillnet-users to make the switch to Vaquita-safe gear when they see the success of sustainable fishermen. So of course, this gave me an idea…

The idea is to use this blog as a sharing platform for sustainable recipes in order to spread the excitement of saving the Vaquita. I got the idea while reading this great post about the restaurant Misión 19’s Vaquita-friendly shrimp celebration. I have started off our own celebration by making Shrimp in Coconut-milk Broth, a dish inspired my Misión 19 chef Javier Plascencia. It was absolutely delicious and 100% sustainable.

Shrimp in Coconut-milk Broth Recipe

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Now it’s your turn. Do you know any sustainable seafood recipes? If not, a great resource is Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. You can even create your own dishes! Leave your recipes in the comments or even make them yourself and share it on Facebook or your own blog and send me the link. I will post any recipes I receive and might even make a few myself if they sound really good! The most important thing is that the seafood is sustainable and you have fun while helping the Vaquita!

I look forward to seeing what all you cooks out there can stir up! 😉

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!

The big 3

According to leading Vaquita researcher Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, there are 3 initiatives that we members of the general public can participate in to legitimately make a difference in the Vaquita’s situation. They are:

1. Raise awareness
2. Convince restaurants to only buy their shrimp from safe sources
3. Raise money towards the switch-out program

The first one has so many different levels to it. This blog is an example of the online branch of public awareness, as is a Vaquita-related Facebook post. Another branch is face-to-face awareness, such as the tables manned by the Muskwa Club and ¡Viva Vaquita!, or a Vaquita speech at an event. Some other things that can raise awareness are books (mine is the only one so far), pamphlets, or public service announcements (especially on the radio). The online branch is the easiest and most effective, because you can instantly send information around the world with the click of a button. The hard part is getting the information to a large enough audience with the information being worthwhile enough that they will, in turn, pass it around to other people. Luckily, the Vaquita is a very worthwhile cause. So all you need to do is start a chain of posts about it, and those very posts could end up being read by every person on earth.

The second one is only for the dedicated Vaquita conservationist. It would require quite a bit of research and getting out of the house. For example, the next time you go to Red Lobster, ask your waiter where the shrimp comes from. If they don’t know, ask to speak with the manager. I honestly have never seen shrimp that was not farm-raised somewhere in Asia, but I always make sure. Always. Even though there is much debate as to how/where shrimp should be caught for maximum sustainability, anything other than gillnet-caught in the Gulf of California is fine from a Vaquita standpoint. It is most important to check restaurants and grocery stores for Vaquita-unsafe shrimp if you live near Mexico, in places like California and Arizona. There are many sites, including http://vaquita.tv/, that go into detail about sustainable seafood. After all, gillnet fishing is the only thing wiping out the Vaquita. Why not make sure that you aren’t supporting it?

The third and final initiative is raising money towards the switch-out program. The Muskwa Club and the American Cetacean Society Los Angeles Chapter have teamed up to create the only charity that sends money directly to the switch-out program, and nothing else. This is vital because the switch-out program is believed to be the best chance for the Vaquita, because it is unreasonable to think that the fishermen will just give up fishing for some unknown business that could get them nowhere financially. The switch-out is a best of both worlds situation, because the fishermen still can fish with the new nets that have proven to be as or more effective than gillnets, while the Vaquitas are put in little to no danger whatsoever. To donate to the new charity, please write a check to P.O. Box 1208, San Pedro, CA 90733-1208 and write Vaquita on the memo line. Yes, I know it is a cliché, but every dollar really does count. But the Muskwa Club has bigger plans. We are attempting to contact eco-conscious celebrities and billionaires as potential funding sources. Leonardo DiCaprio and Pierce Brosnan are both part of huge efforts to save tigers and whales, so why not the Vaquita? Warren Buffett just donated $2.6 billion to charity. Yes, you read that correctly. The entire switch-out program can be funded with, at most, $180 million. I am not necessarily saying we are going to get $180 million from Mr. Buffett, but it is exciting to think about what one human can do. He can literally save a species, in theory.

Maybe I will start playing the lottery.

Damming

The damming of the Colorado River in the United States has led to a decrease in freshwater input into the upper Gulf of California. The long-term impact on the Vaquita from this drastic habitat alteration is of serious concern, though not as much as gillnet fishing.

How to help

According to Viva Vaquita, some ways YOU can help the Vaquita are:

Tell all your friends and family about the Vaquita.

Support conservation measures and vote for politicians with a good environmental record.

Support the Mexican economy by traveling to Mexico.

Do not buy shrimp or fish caught with gillnets.

Write your elected officials and tell them to help the Vaquita.

Write a letter to the President of Mexico and tell him to save the Vaquita. Felipe.Calderon@presidencia.gob.mx

Send Vaquita drawings to the United Nations, asking them to support Vaquita conservation efforts by Mexico.
ExecutiveOffice@unep.org

Send a message to the Mexican government to show your support for the Vaquita! Below are the most relevant agencies and links to their online suggestion boxes:

SEMARNAT (Ministry of Natural Resources)
http://www.semarnat.gob.mx/Pages/buzonciudadano.aspx

CONANP (Commission of Natural Protected Areas)
http://www.conanp.gob.mx/buzon.php

Donate to the Vaquita Recovery Fund!
http://www.vivavaquita.org/donations.htm