Mexico Unveils New Plan To Save Near-Extinct Porpoises
The Mexican government unveiled additional steps on Wednesday aimed at protecting the severely endangered vaquita porpoise, the world’s rarest marine mammal, according to the administration.
The goal, according to authorities, was to increase fishing surveillance and oversight in the northern Gulf of California, which is the only region in the world where the vaquita can be found.
According to the National Aquaculture and Fisheries Commission, possible responses include the partial or complete closure of a vaquita sanctuary in the Gulf to fishing vessels for up to one month.
According to laws published in Mexico’s official gazette, this will only happen if more than 60 unlicensed vessels are sighted in the sanctuary’s main “zero tolerance area” in a single day.
Otherwise, the authorities will follow a policy of monitoring, surveillance, and deterrent, reflecting the challenges they’ve had enforcing a commercial fishing ban in the refuge’s heart.
While working with Mexican authorities to dismantle illegal nets, conservationists have been involved in a number of violent confrontations with fishermen.
The vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, is regarded as the “panda of the sea” because of the characteristic black circles around its eyes. Mexico has long been pressed to do more to protect it.
Only ten vaquitas are estimated to remain, according to conservationists.
Gillnets used to fish for another species, the endangered totoaba fish, have killed the porpoise population. Gillnets, which are theoretically banned in the upper Gulf of California, have decimated the porpoise population.
In China, the swim bladder of the totoaba is considered a delicacy and can sell for tens of thousands of dollars on the illegal market.
The announcement came only days after the UNESCO World Heritage Center voiced alarm that the vaquita was on the verge of extinction unless “decisive action” was taken.
In 2005, the islands and protected areas of the Gulf of California were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Their conservation status will be discussed at the World Heritage Committee’s 44th session later this month.