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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#ISTVD2016 is almost here!

Buckle up! International Save the Vaquita Day 2016 is THIS Saturday, July 9!

This year is going to be bigger than ever, and we will have venues all over the world. Click the link below to learn more about the event and see a list of venues (there may be even more venues that have yet to be confirmed). Find a table near you and join the excitement!

http://www.vivavaquita.org/international-save-the-vaquita-day-2016.html

The event will kick off tomorrow morning, July 7, in Washington, D.C. at the Mexican Embassy, where conservationists will meet with government officials to present the success of the petition that is asking to make the gillnet ban permanent (https://www.change.org/p/make-the-gillnet-ban-permanent-to-save-the-vaquita).

Due to how dire the situation is, there has been recent discussion in the Vaquita conservation community about the possibility of using captive breeding as a last-ditch strategy to save the Vaquita. Here is VIVA Vaquita’s official position statement on this issue:

http://www.vivavaquita.org/vaquita-captive-breeding-statement.html

Get ready for #ISTVD2016!

ISTVD

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

Make the gillnet ban permanent!

If the Vaquita is to be saved, four things need to happen:

  1. The gillnet ban is made permanent
  2. The ban is properly enforced
  3. The Totoaba swim bladder trade is shut down
  4. Alternative, Vaquita-safe fishing gear is developed and implemented

These are not going to be easy to accomplish, but Mexico certainly has the power and will to make them all a reality.

We need to show our support and clarify exactly what needs to be done to save this species. But how can I tell the Mexican government these four things? How can I make my voice heard?

Now there is an easy way.

The VIVA Vaquita Coalition has started a petition to get this message to:

President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto
Secretary of SEMARNAT Rafael Pacchiano Alamán
Director of CONAPESCA Mario A. Aguilar Sánchez
Minister of SAGARPA José Eduardo Calzada Rovirosa
Director of INAPESCA Dr. Pablo Arenas Fuentes
 ~~~~~

These people are extremely influential and literally have the power in their hands to save the Vaquita. If they agree to the four things above, the Vaquita will most likely thrive.

Signing the petition is extremely easy. All you have to do is fill in your name, email address, etc. and press Sign! Or you can log in to Change.org with Facebook or email, and literally just click one button to sign!

If there is one thing you ever do for the Vaquita, make it signing this petition.

Thank you from the VV coalition and the Vaquita.

To learn more and sign, click here:

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

And don’t forget to support the Thunderclap!

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New Vaquita photos!

On October 22, two Vaquitas were photographed at close range, marking the first good photographs of the 2015 Vaquita Expedition, and some of the best ever of the species, for that matter!

Check out some of the photos (by Todd Pusser):

Vaquita-marina-2

Vaquita-marina-3

Everyone is extremely excited about this sighting (and the approximately 25 other Vaquitas seen so far during this expedition!), as well as relieved to have new photos for future conservation efforts. President Enrique Peña Nieto is one of these excited individuals! He tweeted reports and photos of the sightings, and also stated that the efforts to save this species rage on, detailing the extensive recovery plan once again in a press release today! The U.S. government has also announced their partnership with Mexico and both of their commitments to saving the Vaquita and eliminating the illegal Totoaba trade in China.

Weather conditions during the expedition have been favorable for the most part (despite the devastating Hurricane Patricia that hit much further south in Mexico), allowing for many sightings, including many of female (cow) Vaquitas with their calves that were presumably born this spring. This is tremendous news, as it means that Vaquitas are still finding ways to reproduce, and therefore can recover if the population isn’t being threatened by gillnets. This expedition has only been going on for a month, and it has already resulted in over 25 sightings, great photographs, and best of all, a renewed hope among the conservation community that the Vaquita can not only be saved, but that all the pieces are already in place to make it actually happen.

Viva Vaquita!

Miracle on the water!

Yesterday I posted that the Vaquita Expedition had just begun. Well, only 5 days in, and something incredible has already happened. Check out Dr. Barb Taylor’s message from only a few hours ago:

“So, the news will be out soon so I think I can let you Vaquita fans know. We saw 3 Vaquitas yesterday. Minister Pacchiano was due to come for an enforcement meeting in San Felipe and had a big visit orchestrated with the governor of Baja, the head of fisheries nationally (Mario Aguilar) and in Baja, a huge number of Navy brass, and the head of Profepa. Juan Carlos suggested that we go back to the spot we saw Vaquita yesterday to try to see them again. To make a long story short…we did (see 3 Vaquitas…Juan Carlos sighting) and I got the Minister on a pair of big eyes to see Vaquitas…and even Aguilar saw Vaquitas!

Just amazing! Those Vaquitas knew how important this was. They stayed in one place for about 20 minutes. They were still tiny triangles, but that just made the dignitaries all the more amazed that we found them.

I rode back in the super fast Navy boat with the governor of Baja in the co-pilot seat and pitched him the importance of making Baja a global example of solving the gillnet problem and working with California to develop markets to support Vaquita-friendly seafood. He basically translated that in the press conference that followed.

Needless to say…we’re all pretty excited. What are the odds?”

-Barb

I hope this remarkable and inspirational event is an indicator of things to come on this ever-important survey.

If similar advancements are made in the near future, this expedition may prove to be the most pivotal moment in the fight to save this little porpoise.

Viva Vaquita!

Maria Cleofas