The United States filed the first environmental complaint under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). He calls for a consultation with Mexico on the protection of a critically endangered porpoise in the upper Gulf of California.
The complaint from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative cites Mexico’s failure to stop illegal fishing that threatens the critically endangered Marina Vaquita. It is the smallest porpoise in the world and the most threatened marine mammal, with only six vaquitas left.
The United States is seeking environmental consultations with Mexican officials — the first step in the USMCA dispute resolution process. However, if the United States and Mexico fail to reach an agreement, it could ultimately lead to sanctions.
“This is a very big step on the part of the United States,” said Sarah Uhlemann, senior attorney and international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is the first time the United States has taken this kind of action under the USMCA. And we really hope this inspires the Mexican government to take serious enforcement action to save this little porpoise from extinction.
The Center for Biological Diversity is one of many environmental groups that called for this action last August.
While the United States has already banned some seafood from the upper Gulf of California due to Mexico’s failure to protect the few remaining vaquitas, Uhlemann said sanctions under the USMCA could do more.
“The penalties under the USMCA could be much more drastic than the ban that currently exists,” she said. “We don’t know exactly what the United States would ask for or what they would do, but it could really rock the seafood industry in Mexico.”
She added that other recent U.S. actions in response to illegal fishing in Mexico demonstrate the serious enforcement problem in Mexican waters.
Restrictions on Mexican fishing vessels in the Gulf of Mexico went into effect Feb. 7, due to what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called Mexico’s failure to curb unauthorized fishing of the red snapper that is harming gulf coast fisheries.
In the Gulf of California, the situation of the vaquita is dire. Uhlemann said the lesser porpoise is “on the brink of extinction,” and said not only should the United States defend the right to exist of all species, but because the United States is a Mexico’s seafood importer, American consumers are also included. problem because they buy seafood caught with gillnets that trap and drown the vaquita.
Mexico is committed to protecting the vaquita, but has long struggled to enforce its own laws in the upper Gulf of California. The country has also officially reduced protections in a no-fishing zone, implementing a sliding scale of protections that only begins enforcement when dozens of boats are repeatedly spotted in the no-go zone. This administration also drastically cut funding for environmental agencies and restricted Sea Shepherd’s efforts to remove illegal nets.
“Illegal fishing is out of control in Mexican waters and the vaquita is paying the highest possible price,” Uhlemann said in a press release. “We are pleased that the US government is reprimanding Mexico for violating its environmental obligations and threatening the existence of the vaquita.”
Fronteras Desk is a KJZZ project covering significant stories in a span stretching from northern Arizona to northwestern Mexico.