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

Muskwa recognized by White House

I am completely shocked by the email I just received from William Whittenbury, Muskwa Club president:

“THIS JUST IN-

During the preparations for National Save the Vaquita Day this year, we reached out to President Obama, asking him to officially declare July 6 to be the National Save the Vaquita Day. While we did not receive a response on the issue, we felt it was a valuable experience to reach out to the White House.

Well…

Today we received a package addressed to Hannah (our publicity director) as “Ms. Hannah Kim, Director of Public Relations, Muskwa Club.” Guess who it was from! Inside was a card with the compliments of THE PRESIDENT as well as a copy of his official proclamation that made June 2013 World Oceans Month. While the Vaquita Day was not officially declared, the White House took the time to respond and make the connection between the Vaquita and the ocean!

So, in short, Muskwa is now recognized as an organization by the President of the United States!”

I was so excited to read this! It is obviously a huge step for Muskwa and an enormous deal for the Vaquita!

Also, today Cheryl Butner received her birthday present from Diane Glim (both of the American Cetacean Society), and guess what it was? My book! I am so thankful to both of them, and they even are purchasing 20 for the ACS’s Christmas fundraiser!

Email Obama

For my 200th post, I am asking you to email President Obama with this message asking him to make July 6 National Save the Vaquita Day. His “Other Inquiries” email address is support@barackobama.com. Thanks from the Muskwa Club!

________________________________________________________________

June 19, 2013

Dear President Obama:

We have an easy, no-cost way for you to make a critical difference to precious lives. We, the Muskwa Club, would like you to proclaim July 6, 2013 as “National Save the Vaquita Day.” The Muskwa Club was started by kids to promote value-added activities for Middle School and High School age students. We take field trips to places of educational interest, we build engineering projects, we host a speaker series to showcase our members’ passions, and we engage in community service activities. Saving the Vaquita has become our number one service project.

The Vaquita is the smallest, arguably cutest and definitely most endangered marine mammal. These precious porpoises live in the Sea of Cortez and have a range only one quarter the size of metropolitan Los Angeles. Only about 170 Vaquita remain in existence today and approximately 30 die each year due to accidental gill net entanglement. If nothing more is done, they will be functionally extinct by 2017. We can’t let this happen! Solutions have been created such as Vaquita safe nets, and the Mexican government is working on the problem. However, the current economic climate necessitates that we all pitch in and help our neighbors to the south.

Our club is working very hard to raise awareness of the Vaquita. The more people who know about these beloved porpoises, the more likely they will receive what they need to survive extinction. So far we have hosted five Vaquita awareness tables at local events in the Southern California area. We plan to host at least three more during World Ocean’s Day on both the west and east coasts of the US. However, our really big push will be on July 6, 2013 when we will host a tri-coastal event. The Waikiki Aquarium in your home State, and the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro, CA have confirmed. The National Aquarium is very interested in allowing us to host a table there and we have tentative agreements with seven more aquariums across the country. All we need from you is to officially proclaim the day “National Save the Vaquita Day.” That will help promote media attention to our efforts, show that you care about this important international issue, and shine a much needed light on the plight of the Vaquita.

In addition to our awareness table efforts, we are also producing a series of videos about the Vaquita, have our own website, Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube Channel, and we speak locally to school science classes about the Vaquita. We’ve established alliances with the American Cetacean Society, Los Serenos de Pt. Vicente, Viva Vaquita, and V-log. At our request, the American Cetacean Society, Los Angeles Chapter has set up a fund to which people can contribute toward the net switch out program. We do not collect money, being minors, but we feel we can be a force for change. Please help us!

Sincerely,

[Your name]

Obama-Thank-You1

Muskwa’s National Save the Vaquita Day

The Muskwa Club has put up the first episode of their series of shadow puppet videos. You can watch it below. Also, their website is now www.muskwaclub.org.

Attention Muskwa Club members: the deadline for ordering a Vaquita t-shirt is Tuesday, May 7 at 11:59 pm, though I may extend the deadline slightly. Order it here: http://www.customink.com/signup/2nvhf7s2.

I have made a lot of progress on my book, including finishing all text, almost finishing all the illustrations, and I have front and back cover images (courtesy of Memuco and Tom Jefferson). I might even get NOAA or The Cousteau Society to pay for printing by sponsoring it! I hope to send it off to publishing this month.

Immense progress has been made with Muskwa’s National Save the Vaquita Day, about which they are contacting the president to make it an official day, July 6th. They have many, many aquariums participating in or considering participating in the event, with the Waikiki and Cabrillo Aquariums being confirmed for that day. Also, there is a chance I will be manning a table at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts on June 9 for World Oceans Day, and the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland on July 6 for National Save the Vaquita Day, if they confirm their participation in the event.

The Muskwa Club has a huge range of contacts in every imaginable niche, which is helping make all of this possible. They will be selling my book on July 6 at many of their tables, (¡Viva Vaquita! will be doing the same), and the Cabrillo Aquarium has even offered to sell the book at their gift shop! The Muskwa Club has many projects that they are keeping under wraps for now, but believe me, they are awesome! Also, I am now writing a column for the Muskwa Club’s monthly newsletter.

In other news, Jonathan answered the riddle correctly! Q: What is a Vaquita’s favorite model of computer? A: Microsoft Surface.