A permanent ban on gillnet fishing went into effect yesterday in the northern part of the Sea of Cortés as a measure to protect the endangered vaquita marina.
Years of conservation efforts and billions of pesos have failed to halt the steady decline in the numbers of the porpoise, found exclusively in the upper Sea of Cortés. An estimated 30 remain.
The gillnet ban is part of an agreement made this month by the Mexican government and the foundations of actor Leonardo DiCaprio and businessman Carlos Slim to try to save the vaquita.
It has been bycatch in shrimp and illegal totoaba fisheries, which employ gillnets.
Another measure planned by Mexican authorities is the capture of the remaining porpoises to keep them in captivity in the hope they will breed.
A permanent gillnet ban was one of the measures feared by area fishermen, but the spokesman for a cooperative in San Felipe, Baja California, said there will be a recreational fishery using hooks for totoaba starting next February.
Sunshine Antonio Rodríguez Peña said there would also be support for totoaba aquaculture projects.
Along with the ban, the secretariat responsible for fisheries, Sagarpa, announced an extension of financial support to fishery workers in San Felipe and Golfo de Santa Clara, Sonora, for another two months, until the end of August.
The ban was hailed by the World Wildlife Fund’s Mexico director, Jorge Rickards, who described it as a milestone in efforts to save the vaquita, as long as it is to be accompanied by providing alternatives to fishing for local communities.
Prohibiting gillnets eliminates the only known threat against the porpoise, he said.
Rickards also urged coordinated action by Mexico, the United States and China to stop the trafficking of totoaba swim bladders, an expensive delicacy in Asia whose demand fuels their illegal fishing.