How to save the Vaquita

Happy World Wildlife Day! Here is a great post by the President of The Ocean Foundation, Mark J. Spalding, and former Executive Director of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, Tim Ragen:

“EFFORTS TAKEN TO date by Mexico, the United States, and the global community have been helpful, but have not been sufficient to save the Vaquita from extinction. Conserving the species will require a fundamental change in the nature and rigor of recovery efforts—to save the Vaquita the next round of protection measures cannot be half-hearted, indecisive, or poorly implemented. We need a strategy that can be implemented immediately and then sustained for the long-term—it is simply disingenuous to suggest anything less will do. The following are twelve tasks that must be accomplished if we are to prevent the Vaquita from vanishing from the face of the earth.

Mexico must:

  1. Remove—in perpetuity—all gillnets from the species’ full range, including those that are being used legally to catch shrimp and finfish, and those that are being used illegally to catch the endangered Totoaba. We have long known that gillnets are the primary factor causing the decline of the Vaquita.
  2. Staunchly enforce the prohibition on gillnets using both aircraft, vessels, and aggressive judicial retribution. A prohibition on gillnets is effectively meaningless unless the Mexican government enforces that prohibition.
  3. Require all fishermen currently using gillnets to fish for shrimp to shift immediately to small trawls (e.g., red selectiva) if they want to fish within the historic range of the Vaquita. Small trawls are used effectively to fish for shrimp in other parts of the world and they have been shown to be effective in the northern Gulf of California. Switching gears will require some adaptability by fishermen, but does not pose an insurmountable problem.
  4. Require all fishermen currently using gillnets to target finfish to shift immediately to alternative, Vaquita-safe gear if they want to fish within the Vaquita’s historic range. An entangled Vaquita will drown in a gillnet used for finfish just as quickly as it will drown in a shrimp gillnet.
  5. Work with the United States, China, and other Asia nations to end the illegal fishing and trade of Totoaba. Gillnets are being used illegally to fish for the endangered Totoaba; the swim bladders of these fish are then sold in Asian black markets. Few human activities are as destructive to endangered wildlife populations as these absurd black markets.
  6. Begin training programs to educate and train fishermen in the use of new, Vaquita-safe fishing gear for both shrimp and finfish. Vaquita recovery efforts are not intended to harm fishermen, who will require assistance to shift to safe gear types.
  7. Support the work of international scientists to maintain the acoustic monitoring system developed over the past 5 years. Keeping track of the status of the remaining Vaquita population is critical to guide recovery efforts. The acoustic monitoring system used for this purpose is the best possible monitoring strategy available under these circumstances.

The United States must:

  1. Bring the full weight of key administrative departments and agencies to bear on this issue. Those include the Department of Commerce (including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the International Trade Administration), the Department of State, the Department of the Interior (including the Office of Law Enforcement in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and the Marine Mammal Commission. Conservation organizations also are key partners in this recovery effort.
  2. The Department of Commerce, including NOAA and the International Trade Administration, must implement a full embargo of all seafood products caught in all Mexican fisheries if all gillnets are not removed immediately from the Vaquita’s historic range. NOAA also must continue to provide scientific expertise to Vaquita recovery efforts.
  3. The Department of State must send a message of strong concern to its Mexican counterparts regarding the pending extinction of the Vaquita. That message must convey that the United States stands ready to assist with recovery efforts, but that it also expects Mexico to implement, in a full and effective manner, the recovery measures needed to save the Vaquita. The Department of State also must make it clear to their Asian counterparts that the United States fully intends use all means available to it to stop the illegal trade in Totoaba.
  4. The Office of Law Enforcement of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, must lead efforts to halt the illegal trade of Totoaba parts. Much of the illegal trade apparently goes through southern California, but it must be halted in all areas under U.S. jurisdiction.
  5. Conservation organizations are key partners in this recovery effort. Funding will be needed to support recovery efforts by the Mexican and U.S. governments. The conservation community may have access to resources not otherwise available to government departments and agencies, and they have the flexibility to respond more quickly to funding needs.

There is hope but we, collectively, face a choice. We must make it now and there’s no going back if we fail. If we cannot save this species when the problem is so abundantly clear and manageable, then our hopes and aspirations for other endangered species are little more than whimsical. The question is not whether we can do this—it’s whether we will.”

They bring up some great points in this article. First, they address that the Vaquita is in a better situation than most other endangered species. Obviously they are still in deep trouble, but in essence, if we can’t force ourselves to save the Vaquita, we might as well give up on the species that have more complicated threats.

Basically, this is article is a list of things that the governments of Mexico and the United States must accomplish to save the Vaquita. You are kidding yourself if you don’t believe the government is the only thing controlling the fate of the species. The government is what creates, implements, and enforces all the laws. The government is the only thing that can stop fishermen from using gillnets.

So, where does that leave us civilians?

In the past, I have always said sustainable seafood is a great way to help the Vaquita. And it absolutely is. But in this time of crisis, it will not be the thing that turns around the situation. Now, what we need to focus on is making sure the Mexican and U.S. governments accomplish the above 12 goals. The only way to do this is to tell them we appreciate their efforts up to this point, but that even more is needed in order to save the Vaquita. An extremely easy way to do this is to sign and share petitions such as:

VIVA Vaquita Petition

Save the Whales Petition

Greenpeace Petition English

Greenpeace Petition Spanish

Spreading the word, and especially these petitions, puts tremendous pressure on the government to implement the necessary plans to save the Vaquita. The official 2-year ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s full range was supposed to begin on March 1, but now it has been postponed to begin a month later, on April 1. We hope this delay was only because they still needed time to finalize legalities, distribute compensation, and prepare to enforce the ban. We need to make sure the Mexican government is 100% serious about this ban, because otherwise, there is absolutely no chance for the Vaquita. And before the next two years are up, the Mexican government needs to create a long-term plan. But this two year ban, if properly enforced, is a perfect first step. It should allow enough time for the development of Vaquita-safe nets for every type of legal fishery, and also be a test for the Mexican government to see if they can enforce a ban successfully. The illegal Totoaba fishery will prove an extremely difficult test to stop, but if enough people work together, it can be done.

The next few years are going to be remembered forever as either a complete failure to solve a relatively simple environmental issue, or as one of the greatest conservation success stories of all time. Let’s make it the latter.

Puppeteers

Godfather Vaquita

The fishing season has begun. It runs during every month that has the letter “r” in it, which is September to April.

Enormous actions need to be taken right now by the Mexican and US governments in order to save the Vaquita. This could be the last year with the Vaquita if the fishermen are allowed to fish in their range this season:

http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/19/opinion/vidal-endangered-vaquita/

Our governments need to work together and make a decision now. Like puppeteers, they have complete control of the entire species, as I represented above. To help them make this historical decision, please sign this petition:

http://act.oceanconservancy.org/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=41469&em_id=30824.0

 

Time for action

97. There are 97 Vaquitas left on this planet. For every Vaquita on earth, there are 82 million people.

To date, nothing that has been done to save them has worked. It is a harsh reality for all of us in the field of Vaquita conservation, and now there is the threat of Totoaba fishing for the Asian black market, which we didn’t think was occurring in substantial amounts anymore.

A big change is necessary if we plan on saving this species. We have been incredibly diplomatic with the fishermen, but obviously it has not been working. We need help from very important people, and we will certainly try our hardest to make that happen. Please read this message from ¡VIVA Vaquita!: http://www.vivavaquita.org/VV_Emergency2014.html.

¡VIVA Vaquita! is requesting that the Mexican Government do everything in its power (and make full use of assistance offered from other countries, such as the United States) to eliminate all gillnet fishing in the Vaquita’s range in the next two months. If this does not happen, we will immediately begin campaigning for a boycott of ALL Mexican seafood products, until such time that the ban is considered to be in effect.

Right now, the most important thing that the general public can do is sign and share this new petition from the Ocean Conservancy:

http://act.oceanconservancy.org/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=41469&em_id=30824.0

 

Graphic © Joe Dlugo

Graphic © Joe Dlugo

It is vital that everyone shares the Vaquita’s predicament on social media before it is too late. If you have not already, “like” ¡VIVA Vaquita! on Facebook for important updates.

A good example of social media helping a cause is “Changing Hearts, Minds, and Lives.” They are a Facebook group (of which I am a member of) that uses social media to spread the word about important environmental issues, such as the Vaquita.

Countless major news companies have been attracted to the Vaquita’s story, but unfortunately, it’s because of how close to extinction it is. Hopefully this new level of recognition can have a positive impact on the species.

If you live near the Point Vicente Interpretive Center in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, then please attend their book signing on Saturday, November 8th, from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. Beth Whittenbury will be representing my book there, so please pay her a visit and buy my book! Thanks so much Mrs. Whittenbury!

Lauri Hamilton has submitted a video for National Geographic’s Expedition Granted program for a chance at a $50,000 grant to go out and film Vaquitas. Please vote for her on September 16 if she is one of the finalists! She used one of my drawings for the video, which I am very thankful for. Here is the link: http://expeditiongranted.nationalgeographic.com/project/the-vaquita-project/.

If we all work together to save the Vaquita, it really does have a chance…

Now is the time for action.

Cooking to save the Vaquita: Part 3

Part 2: https://vlogvaquita.com/2013/12/22/cooking-to-save-the-vaquita-part-2/

*Vince Radice has brought to my attention that the sardine fishery in the Gulf of California is not as sustainable as the MSC believes, due to the seabird bycatch caused by the purse seine nets. More information below.

During our incredible trip to Boston for the New England Aquarium’s 2014 World Oceans Day Celebration (recap coming soon), we were treated to a live demonstration of sustainable seafood cooking by one of the most famous seafood chefs in the world, Barton Seaver. Barton is a leading ambassador in sustainable seafood awareness, with two amazing cookbooks on this topic. I bought a copy of his first book, For Cod and Country, and already have made two meals from it. A recurring theme in his books is: eating sustainable seafood alone will not save the ocean. Eating vegetable-oriented meals with small portions of sustainable seafood will. Salads are a perfect example.

The first dish was “Smoked Atlantic Sardines with Mixed Greens and Fig-Olive Dressing”:

Sardine Salad

Sardines are the ocean’s superfood, packed with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B2 and B12, phosphorous, calcium, potassium, niacin, iron, selenium, vitamin D, and tons of protein: http://www.amazon.com/The-Perfect-Protein-Lovers-Feeding/dp/1609614992. Additionally, they are low in mercury levels due to their position on the food chain and their short life spans. Unfortunately, these little sea gems are not caught sustainably in the Gulf of California.

The sardine fishery is one of the main fisheries in the Gulf of California, and is sustainable due to how they are caught: http://www.msc.org/track-a-fishery/fisheries-in-the-program/certified/pacific/gulf-of_california-mexico-sardine. By eating sardines from the Gulf, you are giving incentive to the gillnet fishermen to switch from shrimp, corvina, or other finfish to sardines instead.

*“The sardine fishery in the Gulf of California is not nearly as sustainable as [the MSC says]. I know the players in Guaymas who have spent a great deal of money to become sustainable, [but] incidental bycatch is a huge issue, especially with marine birds.

http://sancarlos.tv/guaymas-commercial-sardine-fishery-preliminary-report/

Also check out this article, one of my photos from the above link made it into the gallery, http://e360.yale.edu/feature/brown_pelicans_a_test_case_for_the_endangered_species_act/2764/ and for a movie that is being produced about brown pelicans by Judy Irving which is going to go into some detail on the big crash in pelagic sardines this year hopefully. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pelicandreams/pelican-dreams/

After speaking with scientists from all over the gulf they all concur one thing. The ecology of the Gulf of California has been forever changed by two factors more than just about anything. The commercial sardine fishery and the commercial shrimp fishery (the big boats, not the small artisanal fisherman as pictured in the video above).”

—Vince Radice

This means that it is not good to buy sardines from the Gulf of California. However, this does not mean that all sardine fisheries are unsustainable, so buying sardines is still a great idea for their health benefits alone. Hopefully in “Cooking to save the Vaquita: Part 5,” Vince will be able to give some more valuable insight on what is and isn’t sustainable from the Gulf.

Most people think of sardines as gross. I was one of these people until a few days ago. When I first tried the sardines, I was reluctant to even put them in the salad because I wanted to eat them all straight out of the can. They have a delicious smoky flavor with a hint of tuna. The meaty sardines perfectly complemented the salty olive dressing. Sardines have quickly become one of my favorite seafoods, and I (and hopefully you) will be eating a ton of them in the future.

Learn more here: http://www.fishwatch.gov/seafood_profiles/species/sardine/species_pages/pacific_sardine.htm

The main course was “Spinach- and Parmesan-crusted Tilapia”:

Spinach Tilapia

This might have been my favorite seafood dish of all time. The delectable cheesy spinach did not overpower, or was overpowered by, the sustainably farmed tilapia. It was just right, and the Panko breadcrumbs added a slight crunch that topped off the meal. Tilapia is very easy to work with due to its mild flavor, and it is always sustainable, so there is never any guilt while chowing down on the flaky white meat.

For these incredible sustainable recipes and hundreds more, purchase Barton’s book here: http://www.amazon.com/For-Cod-Country-Delicious-Sustainable/dp/1402777752

As I have said before, AVOID shrimp from Mexico, unless you are at a specifically-designated sustainable shrimp festival for the Vaquita. Here is Seafood Watch’s comments on wild-caught shrimp from Mexico:

Although shrimp are generally highly resilient to fishing pressure, many shrimp populations in the Mexican Pacific and Gulf of Mexico have been depleted. Management efforts to protect shrimp populations that include reducing the size of the fishing fleet, seasonal closure of fisheries, creating marine protected areas, and restrictions on gear have produced mixed results. Some shrimp populations are experiencing rebuilding, while others continue to decline. Even where strong regulations have been implemented, poor compliance and illegal fishing continue to plague the Mexican shrimp fisheries.

Fishing methods commonly used in Mexican shrimp fisheries result in a large amount of bycatch. Vaquitas are a critically endangered porpoise endemic to the Upper Gulf of California, and are caught in entanglement nets used by the shrimp fleet. Although entanglement nets have been banned in part of the Vaquita’s range, the extent of protection and level of enforcement is insufficient, and bycatch from the entanglement net fishery continues to threaten the species with extinction. Shrimp trawls catch other threatened and endangered species including sea turtles, seahorses, sharks and rays. However, Turtle Excluder Devices, or TEDs, which can reduce sea turtle bycatch by more than 90% if deployed correctly, are required in the shrimp trawl fishery. The mortality rates of bycatch species caught in Mexican shrimp gear and the impact on the populations of bycatch species is unknown.

With all of these factors, Seafood Watch recommends that consumers “Avoid” all wild-caught Mexican shrimp.”

 

As always, I would love to see some of your sustainable seafood recipes and dishes! Please share them with us in the comment section or by emailing me at gl.tamarin123@gmail.com. Thanks!

For more info on sustainable seafood, check out these links:

http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/take-action/seafood-decision-guide/

http://kategeagan.com/2011/04/7-myths-about-sustainable-seafood-and-sustainable-seafood-recipes/

Project #ChangeOurPerception

What comes to mind when you see the word “Mexico”?

1. Drugs? Partying? Politics?

2. How about whale watching? Gourmet food? Safe beaches?

Chances are that you pictured the first line before the second line. These days, the media is giving Americans a terrible idea of Mexico. Here is an excerpt from Cheryl Butner’s and my post:

“Tourism in [Mexico] is actually really interesting. With the American tourists being scared away for several years now because of what our media is telling them, there have been the obvious really bad consequences, like any businesses related to tourism are struggling to stay open, if they haven’t closed already. But there has been a positive side to this too, in my opinion. As an example, I’ve been going to Tijuana for over 20 years. Before all the drug wars in Mexico and economy crashing in the US, it was pretty much like you would see in the movies, a lot of gringos going down there to drink, party, pick up prostitutes, get drugs (legal and illegal), and little kids on the streets begging for money. Now that the American tourists are pretty much gone, Tijuana has really cleaned up and is actually starting to be known as a cultural and food capital. Many newspapers, blogs, etc. have written about how Tijuana is a new gourmet food destination and even some of the shows on the Food Network and Travel Channel have featured Tijuana. Plus the economy in other parts of Mexico (particularly in the big cities) was not as hard-hit as the US was, so the numbers of Mexicans traveling and vacationing in their own country is way up, which is really great. So you see some of this in the Upper Gulf towns as well, especially with more Mexicans vacationing there now than there used to be. Hopefully the number of Mexican tourists will continue to grow to help make up for the drastically reduced numbers of American tourists, which will probably stay really low for a long time.

All of this makes me wonder if, in cities like Tijuana anyway, the American tourists had more of a negative influence than a positive one. Hopefully after Mexico gets control over the drug problems and is able to overcome this unwarranted stigma of being a dangerous country, it will be able to reinvent its image and get away from being known by Americans as a wild party destination, because the country has so many diverse and incredible experiences to offer tourists. It’s already starting in Tijuana, so hopefully the positive changes will continue.”

I am trying to start a new campaign to get more tourists to view Mexico as the pristine, calm food and animal paradise that it has become, as opposed to the drug-filled war field that our media makes it out to be.

If tourism can go up in Mexico, many more successful businesses can be run, giving less need for gillnet fishing in the Gulf of California. If we want to save the Vaquita, there needs to be incentive for the fishermen to stop fishing, and this is the best incentive there is.

It’s time to #ChangeOurPerception.

#ChangeOurPerception

Beyond the surface

—with special guest co-author, VIVA Vaquita’s Cheryl Butner

Once you break through the surface, the Vaquita’s situation is extremely dynamic and complex. From afar, it may seem like a simple ‘problem and solution’ scenario. It is anything but.

There are a few realistic ways that the Vaquita can be saved. One is if the fishermen stop fishing and take up different careers. The other is if they continue to fish but with Vaquita-friendly fishing gear. Both haves positives and negatives, and both will be difficult to do.

There aren’t many viable career options for the people of the Gulf. You could own a shop, restaurant, or hotel, but these businesses are not going to be able to sustain a large family due to a lack of tourism. However, there is one form of tourism that could be a game-changer: ecotourism. Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” I have received many questions about this, and some people even said they were going on one of these tours to search for Vaquitas. I am filled with hope by seeing how many people would be willing to look for the Vaquita to support the fishermen who have switched careers from exploiter to explorer, but it is unfortunately not that simple. Cheryl Butner takes a closer look:

“A permit from the Mexican government is required to enter the Vaquita refuge, generally for research or scientific purposes. It is important that tourists realize that looking for Vaquita is not like going on a couple-hour whale watch trip. The areas where Vaquita have been spotted are not close to shore, Rocas Consag, which is the “center” of the Vaquita Refuge is something like 17 miles from San Felipe, as I recall it took us 2.5+ hours just to get out to the reserve one way from San Felipe, but our boat was pretty slow. Once you are out there, chances are incredibly slim that you will see Vaquita since they are so shy of boats and so small. It is was very common for fishermen to tell me that in the 20-30-40 years they have been fishing in the area they’ve never seen a Vaquita. In theory tourists could hire a boat to cruise around the outside of the refuge, but as long as they are aware it would be more to enjoy the Sea of Cortez and maybe see some whales, sea lions, rays, but not to get their hopes up about seeing Vaquita.  The Upper Gulf of California is a fantastic place to visit with its beautiful beaches and deserts, world-famous fishing, a wide variety of watersports, wonderful people, and incredible food (but don’t order seafood caught with gillnets!).  The best ways tourists can help Vaquita are (1) travel to this region and encourage their friends and family to travel here as well, (2) talk to everyone they meet and tell them they know about the Vaquita and they want to protect it from extinction, and (3) support the businesses that support the Vaquita.

But if travelers still want to attempt to see a Vaquita, they should go to San Felipe. Puerto Peñasco is pretty far from the refuge, unless they wanted to do a multi-day boat trip. As far as size of these communities, Puerto Peñasco is the biggest and has the most services for tourists and locals. There are fancy resorts, tour companies, everything you could want. San Felipe is smaller than Puerto Peñasco but still has the main things tourists are looking for. El Golfo de Santa Clara is very small, basically a fishing village with few tourist amenities. Most tourists that go there camp on the beach in their RVs and there are a few restaurants and a couple small hotels. I’ve heard that drug smuggling is pretty prevalent in Santa Clara, although I’m sure it’s well hidden from the few tourists that go there. I was there for a day so I wasn’t there long enough to make many observations.

Tourism in that region is actually really interesting. With the American tourists being scared away for several years now because of what our media is telling them, there have been the obvious really bad consequences, like any businesses related to tourism are struggling to stay open, if they haven’t closed already. But there has been a positive side to this too, in my opinion. As an example, I’ve been going to Tijuana for over 20 years. Before all the drug wars in Mexico and economy crashing in the US, it was pretty much like you would see in the movies, a lot of gringos going down there to drink, party, pick up prostitutes, get drugs (legal and illegal), and little kids on the streets begging for money. Now that the American tourists are pretty much gone, Tijuana has really cleaned up and is actually starting to be known as a cultural and food capital. Many newspapers, blogs, etc. have written about how Tijuana is a new gourmet food destination and even some of the shows on the Food Network and Travel Channel have featured Tijuana. Plus the economy in other parts of Mexico (particularly in the big cities) was not as hard-hit as the US was, so the numbers of Mexicans traveling and vacationing in their own country is way up, which is really great. So you see some of this in the Upper Gulf towns as well, especially with more Mexicans vacationing there now than there used to be. Hopefully the number of Mexican tourists will continue to grow to help make up for the drastically reduced numbers of American tourists, which will probably stay really low for a long time.

All of this makes me wonder if, in cities like Tijuana anyway, the American tourists had more of a negative influence than a positive one. Hopefully after Mexico gets control over the drug problems and is able to overcome this unwarranted stigma of being a dangerous country, it will be able to reinvent its image and get away from being known by Americans as a wild party destination, because the country has so many diverse and incredible experiences to offer tourists. It’s already starting in Tijuana, so hopefully the positive changes will continue.

CEDO’s website has a several year old list of businesses that switched from gillnet fishing during the buy-out program. I’m not sure how many of them are still operating.  From what I’ve heard the program didn’t go well because the American tourists stopped coming right around the time a lot of these businesses were just starting out, so they pretty much lost everything. I’ve even heard that some of them may have gone back to fishing to be able to support themselves and their families, if so that would mean they are fishing illegally since many gave up their permits in the buy-out,.  And who could really blame them really if they did. They thought they were doing the right thing and ended up getting burned. It was nobody’s fault, nobody could have foreseen the tourists completely disappearing in such a short period of time.  It’s important to remember that without the fishermen’s support, saving the Vaquita will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible.  That is why everyone – the Mexican government, the local communities, the NGOs, and anyone who cares about the Vaquita – needs to work together in order to prevent its extinction.”

Cheryl and I agree that the more feasible of the two options I mentioned earlier is the switch-out, where the fishermen use alternative fishing gear. There already is the Official Norm law, which is phasing out all shrimp gillnets with Vaquita-safe trawls within the next 3 years, starting in 2013. This is, as Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho put it, “pretty damned good news.”

There is still the gaping hole of finfishing, which could be even more dangerous to the Vaquita than shrimping. The development of effective, Vaquita-safe finfish nets is absolutely mandatory within the next few years if we hope to save the desert porpoise.

So, where does this leave us?

The average person will never see a Vaquita in their lifetime. They are one of the rarest and most secretive animals on Earth. And realistically, you cannot help with things like the development of new fishing gear and assisting fishermen with career changes. But there are still ways that you can make a real difference for the Vaquita. Spreading the word to people that you think could help such as celebrities and animal lovers (or both) is a great way to start (the Post-a-day Challenge is still going on!). Next you could cook for the Vaquita, or buy a VIVA Vaquita t-shirt. Also, my book can teach you a lot more about the Vaquita, while its profits go directly to Vaquita causes.

The important thing is that you are doing something. There are endless ways to help the Vaquita, so go ahead, make a marine mammal proud today.

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

WWF’s successes of 2013

As the year draws to a close, WWF takes a look back on the wonderful year of 2013 in their “15 WWF Success Stories of 2013.” Of course, the biggest Vaquita news in recent memory took place this June in the form of the Official Norm law, a new regulation that guarantees that all shrimp gillnets will be phased into Vaquita-safe trawls within the next 3 years! The Vaquita is featured at number 6 on the list because it was WWF’s petition (which garnered over 38,000 signatures from 127 countries) that caused the law in the first place. We cannot give enough thanks to WWF and everyone else that has helped the Vaquita so far in its eventful, 55-year history with us (the Vaquita was discovered in 1958). Let’s have a toast to a great 2014 for the Vaquita!

My sister and I came up with a fun holiday activity to find out your Vaquita name! For example, my name is Aidan and I was born in March, so my Vaquita name would be, “Vita Marina.” Have fun and please share!

What's your Vaquita name?

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! 😉