Mexico’s vaquita porpoise on the brink as illegal fishing bites


Three months after the Mexican government and a nonprofit group launched a new campaign to save the vaquita porpoise, there has been little improvement in the marine mammal’s chances of avoiding extinction, according to experts and local residents. In January, the Mexican Navy and the NGO Sea Shepherd launched “Operation Miracle” to protect the vaquita reserve in the Sea of ​​Cortes, northern Mexico, in hopes of saving the world’s smallest cetacean. , of which only a handful remain.

With high-profile backers such as Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio and Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim, the vaquita has become a symbol of global efforts to reverse the effects of overfishing and the impact of climate change. humanity over nature. But the hopes of conservationists and locals that these efforts will help the porpoise are dimmed due to illegal fishing in the so-called zero tolerance zone (ZTA) where the remnant vaquita are thought to live.

Zak Smith, director of the NGO Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said there was always a “good story” to tell about what was being done for the vaquita. “And then as soon as the cameras go away or the interest of the parties fades, all that effort goes back to where it was,” he observed. In the village of San Felipe, in the state of Baja California, livelihoods have depended on fishing for generations. But climate change and the loss of local species have sparked debate about how to make fishing sustainable in the region.

“Nothing has been done that really leads to a solution,” said Capitan Cometa, a 49-year-old fisherman who would not reveal his name. He urged the government, activists and local residents to work more closely to raise awareness. Vaquitas often become entangled and die in fishing nets to catch shrimp, totoaba – a large fish prized in China for its swim bladder – and other finfish.

Biologists estimate that there were only between six and 20 vaquitas left in 2018 and that more die each year in the nets than are born. Last September, two baby vaquita were found, an encouraging sign that the species is breeding, said Sea Shepherd’s Pritam Singh.

However, scientists are concerned about the presence of illegal fishermen in the area, pointing out that the vaquita’s survival depends on its ability to avoid being ensnared in nets. “Sea Shepherd … says there has been a significant improvement in their work with the Navy since January 2022,” said DJ Schubert, wildlife biologist for the Animal Welfare Institute.

“The problem is…as long as there’s still illegal fishing, it doesn’t help the vaquita. They need to completely and permanently stop the illegal fishing so the vaquita has a chance to recover,” he said. -he adds. To prevent illegal fishing, anglers are supposed to pass a government inspection before taking to the water. But when Reuters visited the site, fishermen could be seen entering the sea in places where they could avoid inspection.

Martin Corral, a 57-year-old fisherman, said only 10% of fishermen in the area have permission to fish. “It affects the ecology, it affects us, because we have to fish a lot more, because they make the product cheaper,” he said.

The government did not respond to requests for comment on how the fishery was monitored and apparent violations of the law. Asked about the illegal fishing that escaped inspection, Admiral Luis Javier Robinson, who oversees the operation, said the starting points for the fishermen on the Sea of ​​Cortes had been established by mutual agreement with the authorities.

“The spaces must be respected both by the authorities, and by the population, who are the fishermen,” he said.

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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