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A totoaba, top, and vaquita after they were caught in a gillnet A totoaba, top, and vaquita after they were caught in a gillnet. omar vidal

‘Our last chance to save vaquita marina’

Study finds just 60 of the porpoises left, down from 97 in 2014

The vaquita marina, a porpoise found only in Mexican waters, is headed for extinction according to the latest estimate of their numbers.

The International Commission for the Recovery of the Vaquita and Semarnat, the Environment Secretariat, used acoustic devices to identify surviving vaquitas in the Sea of Cortés between September and December last year. The results were released yesterday: they found 60.

That figure is down from the 97 identified in 2014, which triggered a 1-billion-peso federal program primarily designed to pay fishermen not to fish. The vaquita has been a victim of the shrimp and totoaba fisheries, showing up as bycatch in gillnets.

The totoaba is also an endangered species but its swim bladder is a delicacy in China, and fetches a good price — as much as US $5,000 in the U.S.

Omar Vidal of the Mexico office of the World Wildlife Fund believes there are fewer vaquitas than the 60 counted in the survey. He told The Associated Press he believes the porpoise can be saved but “this is clearly our last chance.”

He said the Mexican, U.S. and Chinese governments need to take urgent and coordinated action to stop the illegal fishing, trafficking and consumption of totoaba products, and called on Mexico to ban all fishing in the upper Sea of Cortés, home to the vaquita.

Illegal fishing is believed to have continued despite funds allocated from the billion-peso program to pay for monitoring vaquita habitat. The program, initiated just over a year ago, has also been criticized for distributing unequally the compensation payments to fishermen.

Alejandro Olivera of the Center for Biological Diversity said most of the 2,700 fishermen received $220 to $40 a month but some got as much as $63,000.

Source: Milenio (sp), Associated Press (en)

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