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Last-Ditch Effort to Save Mexico's Endangered Vaquita

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November 14, 2016

Poster explaining the temporary gillnet ban (Mexican Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources)

Map of vaquita habitat and the exclusion zone (NOAA)

The world’s most endangered whale is slipping closer and closer to extinction, prompting the International Whaling Commission to call for a permanent ban on gillnet fishing in its habitat in a last-ditch effort to save it.

The vaquita, Phocoena sinus, a four and a half-foot long porpoise found only in the northern Gulf of California, is down to fewer than 59 individuals after three were found drowned in fishing nets in March. The diminutive cetaceans are most threatened by illegal fishing for the totoaba, an endangered fish whose swim bladders are highly prized by some Chinese medicine practitioners. Fishing for totoabas has been banned iun Mexican waters since 1975. Demand for the swim bladders has spurred a persistent illegal gillnet fishery in vaquita habitat.

In April 2015, the Mexican government enacted a two-year ban on gillnet fishing in an exclusion zone that roughly corresponds with the vaquita’s range. Effective enforcement of the ban is difficult due to both funding and staff shortages, and the sky-high prices totoaba swim bladders can fetch: up to $8,500 per kilogram, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Gillnets are also used in the Gulf’s legal fisheries for shrimp, sharks, and other species. Mexico has been working to provide fisheries workers with gear that’s less dangerous to vaquitas, and has stepped up attempts to enforce the ban using Navy ships and photographic drones.

At the 66th International Whaling Commission meeting held October 24-28 in Slovenia (IWC-66), the United States proposed a draft resolution calling for making permanent Mexico’s two-year ban on gillnetting in the fishing exclusion zone, and asking member countries to provide Mexico with financial and technical assistance for both enforcement and alternative fishing methods for the Gulf’s legal fisheries. Mexico’s representatives at IWC-66 enthusiastically endorsed the proposal.

The IWC is a bit under the gun, as the vaquita slips closer and closer to extinction. If we lose the vaquita, it will be the second cetacean to go extinct in the last decade. China’s baiji, a freshwater dolphin that lived only in the Yangtse River, was declared “functionally extinct” after a 2006 expedition failed to find a single individual.

Read the rest at LinkTV

  Check out Deep Blue Conservancy

  Check out The Western Ecological Society

  Check out Ecological Group of Costa Verde

  Check out Association for Environmental Unity in Mexico

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