The dual scourges of corruption and organized crime are behind the near-extinction of the vaquita marina porpoise, according to an academic at the National Autonomous University (UNAM).
Rodrigo Medellín said yesterday that authorities have failed to enforce the law to prosecute people who engage in the illegal practices of totoaba fishing and trafficking, suggesting that impunity is linked to corruption in the nation’s law enforcement agencies.
“The federal government has invested a lot of money in the protection strategy for the vaquita marina; in 2015 alone it invested [US] $70 million, but it hasn’t been enough because organized crime has been a factor that has affected this species,” he said.
The researcher at the UNAM Institute of Ecology added, “the application of justice is needed, the laws we have are good; however, we need to enforce them.”
The vaquita porpoises are often bycatch in the gill nets used in the upper Gulf of California to catch totoaba, whose swim bladder is considered both a delicacy and an aphrodisiac in China and can fetch prices that make it more lucrative than cocaine.
A 2017 investigation by the non-governmental organization Environmental Investigation Agency determined that eight criminal groups with links to drug cartels and human-trafficking organizations control the illegal fishing and trafficking of the species.
To increase prosecution rates, Medellín also said that more environmental legislation training is required in Mexico’s law enforcement agencies.
“There is a lack of law enforcement [and] legal knowledge, and what’s also needed is for prosecutor’s offices to be able to get appropriate evidence so that the judge has everything [required] to put the criminals in jail,” Medellín said.
The researcher also said that better international cooperation between Mexico, the United States and China is needed, not just to stop trafficking of totoaba, but also to reduce demand for its swim bladder.
Trinational talks between the countries last year led to the creation of a task force, while Mexican authorities have also implemented new measures to save the vaquita, such as a recent program which aimed to capture the porpoises and protect and breed them in captivity.
However, it was scrapped after the death of a female vaquita and the capture of an immature calf that had to be released after it showed signs of stress.
But last month, the head of the federal Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) asserted that the endangered species “would not disappear” and that efforts to save the vaquita porpoise are continuing.
It is estimated that there are only around 30 vaquitas remaining. Their plight has captured the attention of some high-profile names, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim, who last year signed an agreement to save the critically endangered porpoise.
A march called “Procession in Honor of the Vaquita Marina” to raise further awareness about the mammal’s dire predicament will be held tomorrow in Mexico City.
Source: El Universal (sp)