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

American Cetacean Society

The American Cetacean Society is one of the leaders in Vaquita conservation. Founded in 1967 and comprised of 7 chapters and a Student Coalition, they are the world’s first organization dedicated to saving whales. Here are the links to the chapters:

Los Angeles
Monterey Bay
Orange County
Puget Sound
San Diego
San Francisco Bay
Oregon
Student Coalition

The Monterey Bay Chapter was one of the 3 founding members of ¡Viva Vaquita!, and the Los Angeles Chapter has been an extremely helpful ally to the Muskwa Club. The American Cetacean Society has two publications, the quarterly newsletter, Spyhopper, and the biannual, theme-specific Whalewatcher. In 2010 they published a Whalewatcher about porpoises, especially the Vaquita. The two most recent Spyhoppers also featured amazing articles about the Vaquita:

Viva Vaquita by Ayla Glim, Pages 6-8: http://acsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/SpyhopperQtr2-2013-FINAL_2.pdf

Vaquita, Net Gains and Net Losses by Barbara Taylor, Pages 1-5: http://acsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Spyhopper-Nov.-2013.pdf

The November issue shocked me with these few paragraphs!

“For the first time since I’ve been working with Vaquita there are some concrete steps that people from outside Mexico can do (or will be able to soon), and here are three things you can do to help:

1. Support Vaquita-safe seafood products
Fishermen are more likely to convert to Vaquita-friendly fishing gear if there is market incentive to do so. WWF Mexico (http://wwf.panda.org/who_we_are/wwf_offices/mexico/?208988/Mexico-approves-measure-to-save-worlds-rarestmarine-mammal) 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.

2. Establish and support grassroots education and fund-raising campaigns
There is a need for educating the public about Vaquita. Last year saw the first “Save the Vaquita Day” initiated by a grassroots effort by elementary, middle and high school students of the Muskwa Club founded in Long Beach, California https://sites.google.com/site/muskwaclub/ with the support from several ACS chapters. The Muskwa Club even made a nice video, which can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zj3T724txo4. This tri-coastal campaign reached thousands of people through Vaquita events and we can hope that this effort grows. These events and future plans can be seen on the website above and in the ACSLA Chapter report. The group ¡Viva Vaquita! (http://www.vivavaquita.org/) also continues to attend events and do programs in schools to raise awareness, and has just distributed educational brochures and coloring books to schools near the fishing port of San Felipe, Mexico. A kindergarten class at Frances Parker School in San Diego adopted Vaquita as their special project and raised funds. The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/), can accept funds by sending checks to Frances Gulland at their address with a note that the funds are for saving Vaquita. A few times a year, TMMC will transfer those funds to support WWF-Mexico projects aimed at training shrimp fishermen in the northern Gulf how to use alternative gear. Vaquita.tv continues to be an excellent source of on-line information and a great place to send people who want to learn more about Vaquita and the people’s needs in the northern Gulf.

3. Stay informed; stay involved
The other important role for cetacean fans is to be avid (even pesky!) consumers and purveyors of Vaquita information. Both the IUCN and the Society for Marine Mammalogy have repeatedly written letters to the Mexican government – but letters from other concerned citizens and organizations are needed to keep this issue on the front burner in Mexico. Vaquita needs an informed fan base to keep its status in the spotlight, to make clear that there is international interest in fate of this hapless porpoise, and that the eyes of the world are on Mexico over this issue. An inspirational example of citizen involvement is Aidan Bodeo-Lomicky, a 13-year old boy from Pennsylvania who has just written a book and maintains a blog https://vlogvaquita.com/ on Vaquita conservation!”

The Muskwa Club and I are very excited and grateful to see these new progressions (and the shout outs!), as well as all of the work the ACS has done in its legendary history. Please consider donating to them: http://acsonline.org/support-acs/donate-online/, as well as the ACSLA’s Vaquita switch-out fund by sending a check to P.O. Box 1208, San Pedro, CA 90733-1208. It is very important that you write “Vaquita” on the memo line for it to go to the switch-out.

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.