Two Minutes to Midnight for the World's Tiniest Cetacean - Mexico's Vaquita
Andrew C. Revkin - The New York Times
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March 4, 2015

Abby Stone Speaks Out About the Vaquita (Clearwater Marine Aquarium)

If there were a Doomsday Clock for species on the brink of extinction, the minute hand for the vaquita — a tiny porpoise restricted to waters near the Colorado River delta in the Gulf of California — would be nudging midnight.

The threats include accidental drowning in shrimp nets and in gillnets set illegally for an endangered giant croaker, the totoaba, which has a swim bladder that is a pricey black-market delicacy in China.

Elisabeth Malkin has kept up with the latest developments for The Times, including the rise in totoaba smuggling and Mexico’s announcement last Friday that it will ban gillnets for two years across 5,000 square miles of the upper Gulf of California. Here’s an excerpt from her latest story:

The two-year moratorium on the use of gillnets will give researchers time to improve vaquita-safe nets that will catch enough shrimp to generate sufficient income for fishermen. Fishermen complain that the nets that are now available do not allow them to make enough money to feed their families.

Enforcement of the ban will be a bigger challenge. Officials have failed to enforce past limits on gillnet fishing, and boats regularly sneak into what had once been a small vaquita refuge of about 480 square miles.

The totoaba trade has raised the stakes. With swim bladders fetching as much as $10,000 a kilogram, organized crime is controlling the business, paying the fishermen, smuggling the fish bladders to California and shipping them to China.

Many conservationists see the moves as too little, too late, and insufficient unless backed up by tougher enforcement.

Read the rest at The New York Times

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