Fishing restrictions imposed two years ago in the upper Sea of Cortés to protect the endangered vaquita porpoise, which ended last Monday, have been extended through the end of May by the federal government.
Two years ago the vaquita population was about 60, a figure estimated to have dropped to just 30 by last November.
The federal government repeated its intention to work toward a permanent ban on gillnets in that part of the gulf, to protect both the vaquita and the totoaba, another endangered species.
In this context, a recent modification to the federal penal code has elevated the intentional capture and trade in aquatic animal species to the status of organized crime, regardless of the existence of fishing bans.
Local fishermen have been unhappy about the ban since its enactment two years ago, stating that the alternatives and compensation offered by authorities were not satisfactory.
After the two-month extension on the ban was announced, fishermen’s spokesman Antonio Sunshine Rodríguez Peña said they had requested the extension in order to protect the vaquita.
“The decision was made not only by the authorities, it was a request made by the fishing sector and the community of the upper gulf,” said Rodríguez.
The request stemmed from the fishermen’s assessment of measures taken by the National Fishing Institute (Inapesca), as it “did not have the transition to new fishing techniques ready, which they claim are sustainable.”
The spokesman stated that their intention is to keep looking for fishing alternatives that do not affect the vaquita. “Schemes and alternatives keep changing, but we’re returning to the sea, one way or the other,” he told the newspaper Reforma.
In addition to the extension on restrictions, the Environment Secretariat advised that the Navy, the environmental protection agency Profepa and the Environmental Police will increase their surveillance in the upper Sea of Cortés to prevent illegal fishing, although that practice is widely seen as the reason for the vaquita’s declining numbers during the last two years.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has also been providing surveillance under an agreement with the Mexican government, says it pulled up its 100th illegal gillnet in the area five days ago. The Sam Simon, one of three Sea Shepherd vessels on the lookout for illegal fishing, pulled up two more nets immediately after.
The organization said it has retrieved 200 illegal fishing devices in the upper Sea of Cortés since last December.