2016: The Year of the Vaquita

Thunderclap Poster.JPG

We have just launched a Thunderclap campaign to raise awareness for the Vaquita! Our recurring theme throughout 2016 will be “The Year of the Vaquita” and that 2016 will be a “make or break” year for the species. We are trying to get to 500 supporters before March 4, and if we do, the message below will be shared around the world! Please show your support!

“The critically endangered Vaquita porpoise is the rarest marine mammal species on the planet. Between 50 and 100 remain, and all of them live in a tiny region in the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. Their only threat is accidental entanglement in fishing nets called gillnets, which are illegally set for the also-endangered Totoaba fish. There is a lucrative black market trade in Asia for the swim bladders of the Totoaba, fueling this highly destructive fishery. The Vaquita is simply an accidental victim in this situation, but nevertheless, it is on the absolute brink of extinction.

2016 is a “make or break” year for the Vaquita. Which one would you prefer?

We are doing everything we can to reverse the Vaquita’s decline, from online awareness to in-person outreach. One of our biggest efforts has been International Save the Vaquita Day, which has taken place on the second Saturday of July since 2013. ISTVD is a worldwide celebration of the Vaquita and the people trying to save it, through tables, festivals, and much more. This year it is on July 9, and we are going to make the event bigger than ever! We will have tables all around the world, as well as a huge social media effort, all to create buzz and educate the public about this extremely urgent cause! In 2015 we convinced the Mexican government to ban all gillnet fishing in the Vaquita’s range, which is amazing news! Now this year, we are going to have to make sure they flawlessly enforce the ban as well as make it permanent with the aid of Vaquita-safe fishing gear!

2016 has to be the Year of the Vaquita, or else it will be too late to save this magnificent animal.”

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/36220-2016-the-year-of-the-vaquita

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Why are we doing this?

We spend a lot of time asking how to save the Vaquita.

However, asking why may be just as important.

To me, it has always been obvious. When any creature is in trouble, I want to help it; let alone when we are the reason behind its suffering. There are countless other amazing people who think this way, and because of them, the Vaquita is still swimming today.

But this morning I read a comment on a social media post about how exciting the recent Vaquita sightings are, and it went something like this:

“Thank God. Now, because of this, all the homeless have homes, the unemployed have jobs, and the beaten wives have boxing lessons. It’s so great that we’ve seen a bloody porpoise.”

I will not name this person, because, of course, everyone is entitle to their own opinions. I just found this comment very intriguing. I am sure this person is not alone in thinking this way about environmental issues, so I will delve into this a little.

I will start off by saying homelessness, poverty, and abuse are some of the most tragic realities of our world today. It is unfair that people have to spend the only life they have in such terrible situations. And because of how upsetting these things are to the general public, there are countless organizations dedicated to helping these sufferers and victims.

But just because there is something terrible happening, doesn’t mean that all other terrible situations should be forgotten about. There are enough people in this world to help both humans and nature.

And believe me, nature needs saving.

But why? What’s the big deal if an almost never-seen porpoise disappears? Here is an excerpt from my upcoming article (stay tuned for when it gets published) in the Journal of Marine Animals and Their Ecology:

“The extinction of the Vaquita would have major global impacts in a variety of ways. The effect on the local ecosystem would be seen very quickly because the Vaquita is an important species in the food web. If Mexico allows the Vaquita to go extinct, there would be numerous social and economical repercussions. In addition, every living organism is valuable; an entire species is even more so. We have the moral duty to save a species when we are the reason they are endangered. Finally, the outcome of the Vaquita’s situation will affect conservationists all over the world. If the Vaquita goes extinct, it will send the message that we don’t have the will to save endangered species, and it will happen again and again. However, if we do save the Vaquita, it will inspire conservationists to work harder to save other species in similar situations. The Vaquita needs to be saved for the Vaquita, its ecosystem, other endangered species, and for us.”

The philosophy that humans are the only species that matters has put our planet into a downward spiral for the past few hundred years. We haven’t really felt the effects of this spiral yet, but very soon, we are going to experience the repercussions of our collective neglect for this planet’s resources and for other species.

However, it is not too late to reverse some of the damages we have made. One of the best opportunities to do so in dramatic fashion is to save the Vaquita.

So when three Vaquitas are seen by decision-making Mexican dignitaries at the beginning of an extremely important survey, just when hope is fading, there is reason to celebrate. That is why we are glad to see a bloody porpoise.

Here is a photo gallery of the expedition so far, and it gives an idea of how important it really is:

Expedition gallery

SEMARNAT Press Conference

Most recently, the illegal Totoaba trade has been focused in Hong Kong, as discovered by Greenpeace. Please sign their petition to end this trade, which as you may know, is the primary cause for Vaquita bycatch:

Greenpeace Hong Kong Petition

And lastly, Mexican-American non-profit organization World’s Aquarium has created a campaign to fund their program to help monitor the illegal fishing in the Gulf. Non-governmental participation is a necessary effort in this fight. Please donate if you can; there are no better causes:

Marina Vaquita Observer Program

Let’s save this bloody porpoise! 😉

The waiting room

There is no feeling worse than sitting in a waiting room and having no idea what is happening to your loved one in the E.R. You wish you could be there to see what is going on, or better yet, help in any way you can. But you can only sit in the waiting room, staring at the floor and praying to any god out there.

The Vaquita’s situation is no different. The well-being of the patient (Vaquita) is now fully in the surgeon’s (government’s) hands, while we can only sit in our own little waiting rooms and hope that they do the right thing. Nothing is harder for conservationists than feeling powerless. However, we still can help by doing the little things. Signing petitions, spreading awareness, donating to conservation groups, and avoiding unsustainable Mexican seafood can only help the situation.

The 2-year ban has officially been underway for a few weeks now, but there is still much uncertainty as to what really is happening in the Gulf.

There have been claims of Navy officials opening fire on (and injuring) fleeing Totoaba poachers, but these rumors have been denied by a Vaquita expert. There is also word that many or even all of the fishermen have not yet been compensated, and we hope this is also just a rumor, or it’s because they are still working out who is going to get paid. Either way, there is a very real danger that the government doesn’t really intend to compensate the fishermen, who will then be forced to return to (illegal) fishing. Amid all this confusion, not only can independent agencies make a difference, they may be the only chance. Vince Radice said it best in his latest post:

“If [we let] history be our guide and Vaquita conservation is left solely up to the Mexican government, especially enforcement (or should I say the lack thereof) in regards to illegal fishing, as it has been for that last 10 years, it is game over for Vaquita. It is crucial that independent agencies monitor the gill net ban. The lion’s share of work in regards to inspection for the next two years will be on the Mexican Navy and their three new interceptor patrol boats to enforce the no fishing ban. Satellite imaging and the use of drones will be important as well. But who over the next two years is going to start educating the local fisherman that it is in their best interests that they stop killing Vaquitas?”

The shrimp fishermen are not our enemies. Most of them are willing to stay out of the exclusion zone and genuinely care about the Gulf ecosystem, but we can’t expect them to do so without any help or compensation from the government. The poachers of course are a different story. The Mexican Navy has continued to make Totoaba busts, which is very positive news. The poachers are the biggest opponent on the water. They are armed and dangerous, which is why the Navy is the only realistic option for arresting them.

We need to keep the pressure on the Mexican (and U.S.) governments to really make sure they follow through with all their bold promises. If they do, the Vaquita is going to recover.

Here is an article by someone who grew up in San Felipe with a therefore unique perspective on the situation in the Gulf:

‘Ninety years after its founding, the port of San Felipe, Baja California, is not going through its best moments. Illegal fishing of Totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) exerts a negative pressure on the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus) population by increasing the threat of by-catch death due to the use of gillnets to capture the Totoaba. Under increasing national and international pressure, the Mexican government has decided to implement a two-year ban on the use of gillnets and longlines in the Upper Gulf of California, since these place the Vaquita at great risk. Although it is true that there is talk of an economic compensation for the fishermen and the fisheries production chain, which will also be affected by this strategy, the economy of the port of San Felipe will receive a great blow, the magnitude of which is still unknown.

The nervousness created by the ban that will begin in April is one of the factors that make this situation in the Upper Gulf complex. In the last weeks, the region has seen the rise of fuel prices, some paying up to $14 pesos a liter for regular unleaded. In the face of the elevated cost of fuel, the population is asking the government to keep the price equal to that of the city of Mexicali, B.C., since the port belongs to the municipality of the capital of the state, and the difference in prices is excessive. Low volumes of fish catch and high gasoline prices lower profits for fishermen. Gasoline represents the highest among the operation costs of a fishing vessel. 

As the beginning of the ban approaches and fishermen are looking for ways to adapt to the rising fuel prices, they have also had to deal with a no-fishing sanitary ban caused by a red tide. The red tide has been happening for more than a month and the fishing ban on bivalve mollusks has not been lifted, another blow for the economy of the port, since producers for geoduck and other affected species have not been able to commercialize their product during this time. The geoduck fishery is one of the most important for this port; just in 2006 it generated more than $80 million dollars for the state of Baja California. Even though red tides are naturally occurring events, and not all of them result in sanitary bans, the frequency and magnitude can increase due to factors like pollution and even elevated water temperatures. It is the first time in a long time that a red tide is registered to extend all over the Upper Gulf of California (from Puerto Peñasco to Bahia de Los Angeles) and for such a long period of time.

In the midst of these events the fishermen of San Felipe are in a situation of uncertainty. Fishing is the principal source of income and with the suspension of the use of gillnets it is difficult for the sector to visualize a prosperous future in the Upper Gulf of California. According to a document drafted by SAGARPA the value of shrimp, finfish and shark production for San Felipe is $177,256,500 pesos annually. An independent study carried out by the Gulf of California Marine Program calculates that just the chano, Spanish mackerel, gulf corvina, and shrimp fisheries have an estimated annual value of $208,982,142 pesos for the community. The federal government will allocate more than $400 million pesos to compensate the fishermen of the Upper Gulf for the economic losses that the ban of gillnets will cause. In addition, it will invest more than $28 million pesos to compensate members of the productive food chain.

On the other hand, not everything is tragic. Government agencies like Sepesca-BC, CONANP, and CONAPESCA will offer support and financing programs for aquaculture and mariculture projects, among others, aimed at fishermen and cooperatives. These are alternatives for the fishermen’s economy and therefore, for the port. In the next two years it will be extremely important to invest in infrastructure for the port to guarantee the well being of the sector and absorb the economic blow that the region will suffer. Some fishermen will be able to participate in monitoring activities, for which the government has destined a little over $80 million pesos. In addition, there is also the possibility of continuing their fishing activities, as long as they use alternative fishing practices like traps and hook-and-line (commonly known there as “piola”). Sports fishing can become a profitable alternative since San Felipe is a well-known destination for national and international fishing aficionados.

Undoubtedly, the next few months will be difficult for the fishing sector. We have to work by monitoring the changes and adjustments that will be carried out in the Upper Gulf of California to keep looking for ways to balance fisheries with conservation.’

One way the pressure is being kept on the government is with this petition:

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/mammals/vaquita/pdfs/Gulf_of_California_WH_In_Danger_Petition_5_13_15.pdf

‘U.S. conservation groups petitioned the World Heritage Committee today to designate more than 6,900 square miles of ocean and islands in northern Mexico as “in danger” due to the urgent threat of extinction of the critically endangered Vaquita porpoise and Totoaba (a fish species) in the Gulf of California. The World Heritage Committee may consider the petition at its annual meeting in Bonn, Germany, this June.

Although the World Heritage Committee designated Mexico’s “Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California” as a World Heritage property in 2005 in recognition of the area’s outstanding biodiversity, the Vaquita and Totoaba now face extinction as a result of fishing activities, including poaching. The Vaquita is the world’s smallest porpoise and exists only in Mexico’s Gulf of California; the species has suffered a dramatic and alarming decline, with fewer than 100 animals remaining. Without help, scientists predict, the Vaquita could be extinct by 2018.

“Mexico’s Gulf of California World Heritage Area holds some of the world’s most incredible biodiversity and two of the world’s rarest species — the Vaquita and the Totoaba,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But time is running out. If Mexico doesn’t fully and permanently protect the area, these species will vanish forever.”

Under the World Heritage Convention, a property may be listed as “in danger” if there is a “serious decline in the population of the endangered species” that the property was established to protect, like the Vaquita and Totoaba. An “in danger” designation, the conservation groups advocate, will focus international attention on the species’ plight and may garner much-needed funds for the area’s conservation.

“The World Heritage Committee has an opportunity to help address the ongoing threats to the Vaquita and Totoaba by both designating this site as ‘in danger’ and by providing resources to reverse the decline in the species and degradation of this globally important World Heritage Area,” said D.J. Schubert, wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute. “An ‘in danger’ designation would be a wake-up call to Mexico and the world that more must be done to conserve this area and its species.”

Vaquita are often entangled in shrimp fishing gear and illegal gillnets set for Totoaba, a six-foot-long, critically endangered fish that is also only found in the Gulf of California. The Totoaba’s swim bladder is highly sought-after to make soup and for unproven treatments in traditional Chinese medicine. The species faces an increasing demand in the global black market, as a single Totoaba bladder can sell for USD $14,000.

Today’s petition follows Mexico’s announcement last month of a two-year ban on most gillnets in the northern Gulf of California and a promise of increased enforcement. While these measures are critical steps forward, the area requires permanent protection to ensure the two species’ future.

“While we applaud Mexico on its recent efforts to protect the Vaquita, the nation has a long and sad history of making ambitious pronouncements but not following through for the Vaquita,” said Uhlemann. “We hope an ‘in danger’ listing for the Gulf of California World Heritage property will bring international attention and funding necessary to save both the Vaquita and Totoaba from extinction.”’

Another thing to keep in the back of our minds is a boycott on all Mexican seafood. At this time the embargo is not in action, but we are prepared to boycott all Mexican seafood products if gillnet fishing continues and the Mexican government does not stop it.

Later this year, there will hopefully be an official Vaquita survey by NGOs and the Mexican government to get the most accurate and up-to-date population estimate.

After filming a Vaquita for the first time since 2013 (see previous post), Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro has made another big progression. They announced a partnership with the Mexican government that will enable Sea Shepherd to collaborate with them and also help patrol the exclusion zone. Read more here.

This is going to be a big summer for the Vaquita. We will all be on the edge of our seats waiting to see what the Mexican government does, and then acting based on that. A lot of exciting things are going on behind the scenes at VIVA Vaquita HQ, including planning for International Save the Vaquita Day 2015, on July 11!

And on Sunday, June 7 from 11:00 am-4:00 pm, I will have a Vaquita table in Boston at the New England Aquarium’s World Oceans Day celebration. Please join me!

CBD Graphic

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.

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.

The rundown

I’m sure many of you who are reading this don’t really know what’s going on in the Vaquita world. And unless you are in VIVA Vaquita, I don’t really expect you to.

So here’s the rundown:

We all were crossing our fingers on Thanksgiving in hopes of the Mexican government’s Vaquita announcement being good news. In typical fashion, the announcement came over a week late. And it wasn’t really a public announcement. In summary, the announcement was that in San Felipe and El Golfo de Santa Clara (not Puerto Peñasco) shrimp (not corvina) gillnetting and longline fishing will be banned for a year, while compensating for the fishermen’s losses. At first, this sounds like good news, a strong start with a lot of potential success. Well, there’s one kicker they didn’t mention: it’s optional.

When I found this out, I felt like the world was collapsing. In terms of gillnet fishing, anything that’s optional means they aren’t going to do it. It’s just a plain fact. Even when it isn’t optional they still illegally fish. On December 5th, in the Vaquita Refuge, what is thought of as one of the few remaining safe havens for the Vaquita, 90 boats, many of which had gillnets were photographed in an aerial survey. 90. And that’s just in the Refuge.

Copyright © Joe Dlugo

Copyright © Joe Dlugo

So, it seemed to us at VIVA Vaquita that the Mexican government wasn’t taking CIRVA’s recommendations for a complete ban seriously. And after much, MUCH consideration and taking account for all variables and outcomes, here is the official statement from VIVA Vaquita:

 

URGENT ANNOUNCEMENT-

VAQUITA NEARING EXTINCTION!

 

In July 2014, at the 5th Meeting of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), it was estimated that the Vaquita population had decreased to only 97 individuals, and the rate of decline had accelerated to an estimated 18.5% annually (CIRVA 2014). Recent evidence indicates that about 28 Vaquitas (29% of the current population) were killed in gillnets in the 2013/2014 period (Urrutia-Osorio et al. 2014). Despite CIRVA’s strong and urgent call for an immediate ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s range, as a critical measure to avoid the species going extinct in the next couple of years, the Mexican Government has not implemented any such ban. The shrimp gillnet fishery continues legally, and there is now rampant illegal fishing with gillnets inside the Vaquita Refuge. This is in addition to the illegal gillnet fishery for Totoaba, itself an endemic and endangered species, which has apparently expanded, and is now fueling the drastic decline in Vaquita numbers.

The Vaquita population most likely now numbers less than 90 individuals (perhaps much less), and is rapidly heading toward extinction, with a probable point of no return in the next year. Valuable time has been lost during the 2014 shrimp gillnet fishing season, with the Mexican Government delaying action, and vaquita numbers declining further.

In light of this, ¡VIVA Vaquita! is calling on the Mexican Government to immediately implement and enforce a two-year ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s range, as recommended by CIRVA. We ask all consumers to purchase and support only those Mexican seafood products (i.e., fish and shrimp) that have been caught with methods other than gillnets (methods such as trawls, longlines, or hook & line gear). Check product packaging for place of origin and ask your seafood servers/vendors to serve ONLY non-gillnet caught items. A two-year ban will buy time for the Vaquita, and allow for the full conversion of fisheries to more sustainable gear. Support for fishermen who are willing to use alternative gear (i.e., less damaging than gillnets) is essential for the survival of the vaquita, as well as other marine life in the Gulf of California.

References:

CIRVA (International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita). 2014. Report of the 5th Meeting of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita. Ensenada, Baja California, México, 8-10 July 2014, Unpublished Report, 38pp.

Urrutia-Osorio, M. F., A. M. Jaramillo-Legorreta and O. S. Osa-Nishizaki. 2014. Analysis of the artisanal fisheries’ fishing effort dynamics in San Felipe as a bycatch modeling tool for the vaquita (Phocoena sinus). Presentation at American Cetacean Society’s 14th International Conference, 7-9 November 2014, Newport Beach, CA.

We encourage you to avoid buying any seafood products from Mexico, unless you are positive they are from Vaquita-safe sources. This can only work if it spreads through social media like wildfire.

The Muskwa Club has also formed an extremely well thought-out five-part plan that we will begin implementing immediately.

The plan contains the following five parts:

1. Educate consumers in China and Chinese restaurants in America about the negative effects of the Totoaba trade for the Vaquita and the fish itself.

2. Design an efficient, cheap, and Vaquita-safe trawl net that will be given to fishermen as a replacement for gillnets.

3. Continue educating the public about the Vaquita’s plight, including International Save the Vaquita Day.

4. Reach out to celebrities due to their ability to raise funds for the ban and the safe nets, as well as begin a public outcry in favor of the Vaquita

5. Keep everyone’s spirits up in the Vaquita community. It is not too late for the species, unless we don’t work together or stay positive.

We will do everything in our power to make these five steps come true, but there is only so much a group of teenagers can do.

None of this will be possible without your generous support. We ask you to please donate to VIVA Vaquita, as now is a more important time than ever: http://www.vivavaquita.org/donations.html

VIVA Vaquita’s site has undergone a major makeover, which will be published any day now.

Another extremely helpful step you can take is to sign and share our Vaquita petitions, the newest being an urgent letter to the Mexican president and others: https://www.change.org/p/enrique-pe%C3%B1a-nieto-stop-the-extinction-of-the-vaquita-porpoise.

I am pleased to say the word is really getting out about the Vaquita. Nearly all of my relatives have called me saying they saw the Vaquita in the news, and my aunt even sent me this newspaper clipping:

Clipping

And any time you need any motivation to help the Vaquita, just take a look at this picture:

Vaquita Andrew Wright

Greenpeace

I just received an email from Greenpeace UK stating that their new Vaquita petition is the fastest-growing petition in Greenpeace history! They already have over 250,000 signers in 3 days, and it’s our job to keep that number shooting up. Please share this link to keep the heat on the Mexican government as they make their decision any day now about what their plans are for the Vaquita!

https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/protect-the-vaquita3

I am very pleased to say that Greenpeace is using one of my paintings for their social media outreach for this campaign!

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I have noticed some misunderstandings about this picture. As I said when I posted this a while back, this is a digital painting/photo manipulation of a photograph of a captive harbor porpoise from the Netherlands. It has become by far my most popular artwork (it is near the top when you search ‘Vaquita’ on Google images), so I just wanted to clear up everything. I obviously did not intend to confuse anyone. Vaquitas cannot be kept in captivity for many reasons, so this kind of view of a Vaquita is impossible. I wanted to show what it would be like to see a real, alive Vaquita close up. And of course, I do not want to cause any problems for the original photographer.

But I am flattered that Greenpeace thought it was a real Vaquita. 😉