Eighteen months into a program to save the endangered vaquita porpoise from extinction it appears the vaquita is no better off. Fishermen, meanwhile, seem to be faring worse.
With only six months remaining in a two-year ban on all fishing activities in the vicinity of the port town of San Felipe, Baja California, there is now disagreement between fishermen and environmental groups over what happens next.
Fishing techniques had become a threat to the vaquita, whose numbers have declined to an estimated 60, because they are caught along with the totoaba, a fish species whose swim bladder is a delicacy in China.
The two-year federal program was intended to give the marine mammals a respite started in April 2015. As its end draws near, environmental organizations have asked authorities for broader controls on the illegal totoaba fishing and the creation of a safe zone for the vaquita.
It is that last point that has increased the concern of fishermen in San Felipe, as they have interpreted it as a request for an extension on the fishing ban.
The rescue program included suspending fishing activities in a 1.3-million-hectare area, an increase in surveillance in that area, the introduction of new fishing nets and economic compensation for the affected fishermen.
Now, those who were originally intended to be the main beneficiaries of the latter charge that 43% of those funds have benefitted only 30 people. Several fishing companies signed up their friends and relatives to the program instead of their workers, some fishermen say.
They have become more upset since an extension on the fishing ban was hinted at.
In early September, the Environment Secretariat of Baja California asserted that no extension on the restrictions had been contemplated, and that once the two years is up, San Felipe fishermen will have to modify their practices and use the new, government-approved nets.
A group of fishermen’s collectives, however, has insisted that those new nets don’t work.
According to the group, the new nets “catch totoaba, vaquita, whatever you put in front of them. These nets can be considered predatory: for one kilogram of shrimp caught with them, we’ll be killing 10 kilograms of other wildlife.”
The vaquita is native to the area and found nowhere else in the world.
Source: Zeta Tijuana (sp)