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

Even more good news!

Happy Friday! As if you need any cheering up on a Friday, I have even more good news to go along with the new 2-year gillnet ban.

After 40 years, the United States has finally made the decision to ban all seafood imports that are not marine-mammal safe. The ultimate form of a boycott, not only will this save hundreds of thousands of marine mammals from unnecessary death, it will encourage Mexican fishermen to switch to safe nets due to the increased demand of sustainable seafood by the US. Read the full article, http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/26080, below:

“In a landmark settlement reached yesterday, more than 650,000 whales, dolphins and other “bycatch” from fishing will be saved from accidental killing.

Despite US efforts to protect marine mammals in its own waters, we continue to import seafood from countries that don’t abide by our laws.

The lawsuit forces the US government to adopt long overdue policies that ban imports from those countries. All countries we import from will have to meet the same marine mammal protection standards required of US fishermen – a 40-year-old provision of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Fishing gear is the most significant threat to whale and dolphin populations worldwide. For example, Vaquita – the world’s smallest porpoise – is close to extinction because so many are caught in Mexico’s shrimp gillnets. There are only 97 left. Under the new policy, that shrimp would be barred from entering the US until fishing fleets meet standards that protect Vaquita.

Vaquita

“This law provides real, enforceable protections for marine mammals and sets up an even playing field that allows our fishermen to be competitive in the US market. If we’d had these standards 40 years ago, we wouldn’t be scrambling today to save the imperiled Vaquita. Thankfully, if this law is implemented, other species won’t share their fate,” says Zak Smith of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Americans eat 5 billion pounds of seafood each year, about 90% of which is imported and half, wild-caught.

The settlement in the US Court of International Trade is on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and Natural Resources Defense Council. The US government has until 2016 to develop standards that imports must meet.

It’s supported by an executive order on oceans from President Obama last year, which takes aim at rampant seafood fraud and the global black market fish trade. He directed federal agencies to develop a comprehensive program that deters illegal fishing and prevents illegally caught fish from entering the US marketplace (20-32% of all wild-caught seafood!).

Global Fishing Watch will be there to help by exposing illegal practices and creating a deterrent to breaking the law.”

This new law will tie in very nicely with all of VIVA Vaquita and the Muskwa Club’s plans during the new 2-year ban. All of these new developments, if well-implemented, might have come just in time to save the Vaquita.

If we can save the Vaquita through sustainable fishing, we are showing the world that we can coexist with animals without one or the other suffering. Also, it will be an example of what can be done to save a species, inspiring other conservationists to not give up. So what I’m saying is, not only does it matter for the Vaquita itself, but saving this species will have timeless global implications.

Greenpeace’s petition was a big part of this new ban, garnering over 320,000(!) signatures, each one sending a letter directly to the President of Mexico. But they made an important point:

“There are some missing measures that must be included for this [2-year ban] to be fully effective. The most important is to strengthen surveillance and enforcement. Illegal gillnetting in the Vaquita habitat is common and must be eliminated. We’re also urging the Mexican government to make this a permanent ban on gillnet fishing.

By the end of this month the proposal will have passed through consultation and be ready for a final draft. This doesn’t mean the campaign is over, as there may be more campaigning needed… there’s a big difference between what’s written on paper and what happens on the water.”

It is wonderful to have such a big powerhouse organization like Greenpeace fighting for the Vaquita.

Each day I get more confident that we really will save this species.