Better monitoring and enforcement of gill net ban needed in Gulf of California
So far, Mexico’s efforts to save the Gulf of California’s endangered vaquita haven’t been enough, according to conservation activists tracking the last-ditch attempt to save one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals. By some estimates, as few as 50 vaquita remain.
In an open letter to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, nonprofit organizations asked Mexico to step up patrols and enforcement of a gill-netting ban aimed at preventing extinction of the species. In recent months, three vaquitas have died in illegally set nets.
The letter was written on the one-year anniversary of a temporary ban on gill nets, signed by the Animal Welfare Institute, Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental, A. C. (CEMDA), Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife Mexico, Antonio Haghenbeck Foundation and De La Lama I.A.P., Greenpeace and Producciones Serengueti.
In a statement, conservation groups outlined their concerns with the conservation efforts:
“We noticed three major deficiencies in the current conservation program: the monitoring in the vaquitas area is not sufficient or efficient; alternative fishing gear are not being encouraged for their implementation; and the research and development of new fishing methods is practically absent,” said Alejandro Olivera, representative of the Center for Biological Diversity in Mexico.
“It seems that neither the prohibition of certain methods of capture or patrolling the region to verify compliance has been effective in protecting the vaquita. Autopsies of dead vaquitas show they had lacerations similar to those from the materials used for fishing nets, suggesting they are still being used. There are very few vaquitas left and it is increasingly important to protect them now before it is too late. Each time a species is lost, the environmental balance of the ocean is lost as well,” said Greenpeace Mexico Oceans Campaigner Miguel Rivas.
“The actions proposed by the federal government are a good starting point, however they must be implemented effectively. There is a need to increase resources, strengthen patrolling and surveillance in the area and provide alternative fishing gear to enable the fishing community to perform this activity without endangering the vaquita or the totoaba, another endangered species in the region,” the organizations wrote in the letter.
“Both China and the US have stepped up their efforts to ensure compliance with international treaty and laws that mandate protections for the totoaba and vaquita, while the Mexican government’s commitment to saving the vaquita has a long way to go as evidenced by these recent deaths,” said Greenpeace USA Senior Oceans Campaigner Phil Kline. “There’s no excuse for allowing any gillnets into the vaquitas habitat and Mexico must act immediately if they’re serious about saving the vaquita. The extinction clock ticks louder every day.”
The letter recommends several steps to strengthen the vaquita conservation program:
- The monitoring and measures to combat fishing nets must be significantly more effective. We request that the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa) allocate more staff and resources to increase surveillance throughout the year, especially during the totoaba and corvina breeding seasons.
- The ban on gillnets must be permanent throughout the area home to the vaquita, and the current compensation program should be reformulated to compensate fishermen who have moved to an alternative fishing method, rather than compensating them for not fishing.
- Ensure compliance with regulation NOM-002-SAG/PESC-2013, along with an observation program, satellite monitoring devices and surveillance using cameras on small boats, inspections at sites where these boats are stored and protocols for the testing of alternative fishing methods.
The letters demands that President Nieto shows the commitment and obligation to effectively protect this endemic cetacean of Mexico and prevent its extinction.