From September, Mexico will permanently ban the use of gillnets throughout the range of vaquita porpoise in the upper Gulf of California.
Night fishing will also be phased out by the end of this year.
Fishermen will have to use specific landing and unloading sites to help enforce protection measures, according to Mexico’s National Aquaculture and Fisheries Commission.
From September, Mexico will permanently ban the use of gillnets throughout the range of vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) in the upper Gulf of California. With just 60 individuals remaining in the wild, the vaquita porpoise is the world’s smallest, rarest and most threatened marine mammal.
Night fishing will also be phased out by the end of this year, Mario Aguilar Sánchez, Mexico’s National Aquaculture and Fisheries Commissioner, told reporters. Sánchez added that fishermen will have to use specific landing and unloading sites to help enforce protection measures.
The vaquitas are being pushed to extinction by gillnet fishing for the critically endangered totoaba fish, mainly to meet the Chinese demand for totoaba swim bladders, believed to have unproven medicinal benefits. Vaquita porpoises get accidentally entangled in nets used to catch totoabas illegally, leading to their deaths.
Trade in totoabas, or their parts, is illegal under both Mexican and U.S. law. To protect vaquitas, Mexico implemented an emergency two-year ban on gillnet fishing in 2015 in vaquita’s range. Now, the ban has been made permanent.
“We are greatly encouraged by Mexico’s stated commitment to permanently ban all gillnets in all fisheries throughout the vaquita’s entire range — a step scientists have long recommended to stop vaquita from becoming entangled in Mexican fishing nets,” Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “But to truly save the vaquita, the Mexican government must go beyond policy pronouncements and commit financing, staff, and political will from the highest level to ensure that ban is fully and diligently enforced on the water. The vaquita’s very existence is at stake.”
On July 22, U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto also announced their bilateral collaboration to protect the vaquita. Both countries committed to increase cooperation and enforcement efforts to stop illegal fishing and trade in totoaba swim bladders. The two countries also committed to redouble efforts to “develop alternative fishing gear to gillnets that does not result in the entanglement of vaquita and establish ‘vaquita-safe’ fisheries,” and to “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.”
“A permanent ban on the use of gillnets is a landmark moment in the fight to save the vaquita,” Omar Vidal, CEO of WWF-Mexico said in a statement. “Now this ban must be fully enforced, and bilateral commitments to rid local waters of abandoned ‘ghost nets’ must be implemented. We urge Presidents Peña Nieto and Obama to follow up on today’s dialogue by engaging China to address the demand driving illegal totoaba fishing and trade. Together, Mexico, the US, and China can take urgent and coordinated action to stop the illegal fishing, trafficking, and consumption of totoaba. By ending totoaba poaching, we are safeguarding the future of the vaquita.”
(Cover photo: Vaquita, by Paula Olson, NOAA, Public Domain)