Surrendering any ground gained on the vaquita’s preservation with no serious proposals to help the gulf’s fishermen, all hope now seems lost
A two-hour meeting last Saturday, March 13 between leaders of the local fishermen from the northern Sea of Cortez, environmentalists and Mexican government officials regarding the vaquita porpoise ended with representatives from both sides of the issue expressing frustration.
Representatives from SEMARNAT proposed reducing the size of the vaquita’s protected area in an attempt to satisfy the local fishermen while assuring the environmentalists the reduced coordinates would allow for better monitoring and surveillance.
Alejandro Olivera, the representative in Mexico for the Center for Biological Diversity was visibly angered and spoke out as he left the meeting.
“The current administration is going backwards, destroying all the gains made built around the protection of the vaquita marina.”
He continued, “The original protected polygon represents a potential and historical habitat for the species, it was not random. The vaquitas do not live in a corral, they do not know where they are protected and where they are not.”
Leaders representing the local fishermen say they are concerned as well about the federal government’s proposals.
“The secretary of SEMARNAT promised to reduce the size of the protected area saying it would allow for better surveillance. And that is fine. But it will be necessary to assess how it will be taken by the international community and by the NGOs that have lobbied the Mexican government to safeguard the vaquita porpoise ”, affirmed Carlos Tirado, leader of fishermen in the Gulf of Santa Clara, Sonora.
The Mexican authorities also proposed to reopen the debate on the responsibility of the United States in the extinction of the species in regards to the lack of water from the Colorado River and upstream mining activities.
“This is a topic that was argued a decade ago and irrelevant today when there is more than sufficient scientific evidence showing that the totoaba gillnets are the main culprits in the vaquita deaths,” responded Alejandro Olivera.
The greatest threat today to the vaquita is illegal fishing for totoaba. Period.
Both species are of similar size and weight, explaining why they are trapped in the same nets. Poachers spread their nets out for up to a kilometer long in the sea that literally convert themselves into underwater walls.
Fishing for totoaba is the first link in a multibillion-dollar international illegal business chain involving the traffic of the swim bladder to the orient and mainly China where some attribute healing powers to the swim bladder and are willing to pay as much as $100,000 for a single specimen.
The high prices being paid on the black market for the swim bladder created a frenzied demand for the product and eventually caught the eye of the cartels, who see the totoaba as another illegal market to capitalize on and often work in coalition with the fishermen.
The totoaba – already endangered – is now experiencing an even larger decrease in their numbers as well and could face extinction alongside the vaquita.
And with Mexico’s federal government unwilling to take the difficult and crucial steps to help fight for the vaquita porpoise’s survival, it appears that another species will soon go extinct in the Sea of Cortez.