Fishing Ban Could Save the World’s Smallest Porpoise From Extinction

May 17, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Vaquita porpoises
Photo credit: SEMARNAT

Immediate action is needed.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has called for an immediate and indefinite ban on all fishing in the upper Gulf of California in an effort to save the world’s smallest porpoise, the vaquita, from extinction.

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of Mexico, citing data from the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), said on Friday that only around 60 vaquitas remained in the upper Gulf of California — their only habitat — as of December 2015. This is a substantial drop from 2014, when 97 vaquitas were known to reside there.

Scientists warned that at the current rate of decline, the vaquita could vanish by 2022.

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The 1.5-meter-long (five-foot) vaquita is known to get caught in gillnets, which are often used to illegally catch the critically endangered totoaba fish — a valuable commodity on the black market in China because its swim bladder is considered a delicacy.

In 2015, President of Mexico Enrique Pena Nieto imposed a two-year ban on gillnets and increased the vaquita protection area tenfold to 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles). Navy reinforcements were deployed to enforce the ban. The government has also spent millions of dollars compensating local fishermen to help them trade their gillnets in for new vaquita-safe fishing gear.

But the measures have fallen short due to “a surge in illegal totoaba fishing, undermining of compensation schemes and resistance to the use of the smart fishing gear,” according to an article by WWF, which now urges the Mexican government to implement a total ban on fishing in the vaquita’s habitat.

“Despite all the best efforts, we are losing the battle to stop totoaba fishing and save the vaquita,” said Omar Vidal, CEO of WWF-Mexico. “In addition to a fishing ban, Mexico, the United States, and China need to take urgent and coordinated action to stop the illegal fishing, trafficking and consumption of totoaba.”

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