WWF calls for fishing ban to save last of vaquita porpoises

Associated Press Yahoo News 7 Feb 17;

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- The World Wildlife Fund on Monday called for a complete ban on fishing in the habitat of the vaquita porpoise, noting an international committee of experts has determined that fewer than 30 of the critically endangered mammals probably remain in the upper Gulf of California, the only place they live.

Experts and the Mexican government previously announced a plan to catch the few remaining vaquitas and enclose them in pens for protection and possible breeding.

But the World Wildlife Fund argued that is not the answer for the tiny porpoise, saying in a statement that "the only way to save the vaquita from extinction is for the Mexican government to immediately and indefinitely ban all fisheries within its habitat."

That would be a politically and economically costly move for the government. Mexican authorities already banned gillnet fishing in the vaquitas' habitat, but that has proved difficult to enforce.

The WWF published a link to a study done in November by an international committee of experts that used acoustic monitoring to survey the population of the porpoise. The results showed vaquita numbers had declined 90 percent over the last five years, and the study estimated that because numbers have dropped so fast there are probably less than 30 now.

Fishermen lured by Chinese demand for the swim bladder of a fish known as the totoaba, which inhabits the same waters as the vaquita, have decimated the porpoise population. Vaquitas are caught in the same kind of nets that illegal totoaba fishermen use.

The international committee found that illegal fishing continues, saying 31 illegal nets were pulled from the Gulf of California, which is also known as the Sea of Cortez, in October and November.

The WWF called on Mexico's government to extend the gillnet ban and also stop net fishing for corvina, a season that will open soon.

The group also urged the U.S. government "to take swift and decisive action to stop trans-border shipments of totoaba products" and called on the Chinese government "to immediately stop the illegal transport and sale of totoaba products."

Experts acknowledge the catch-and-enclose plan is risky, because the few remaining females could die during capture, dooming the species. Breeding in captivity has successfully saved species such as the red wolf and California condor, but the vaquita has only been scientifically described since the 1950s and has never been bred or even held in captivity.

Still, some experts say the capture program may be the vaquitas' only hope.

But others worry that fishermen may engage in a free-for-all once the endangered vaquita is removed and thus wipe out other species in the gulf.

Last Call for Vaquita, the Mexican “Panda of the Sea”
WWF 6 Feb 17;

Mexico City (6 February) – Last week, the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) announced that only about 30 vaquitas are estimated to survive, compared to 60 individuals last year.

The world’s smallest porpoise, the vaquita, is endemic to Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California. The single biggest threat to the species are fishing nets that inadvertently catch and drown them, most notably gillnets used to illegally catch the critically endangered totoaba fish. The totoaba’s swim bladder is a highly-prized delicacy in Asia and follows an illegal trade route from Mexico to China, through the United States.

As the latest numbers highlight the urgent need for action, WWF reaffirms its conviction that the only way to save the vaquita from extinction is for the Mexican government to immediately and indefinitely ban all fisheries within its habitat and ensure full and effective enforcement.

WWF urges the Mexican government to:

Immediately crack down on the illegal totoaba fishery, expanding upon the important ongoing efforts of the Mexican Navy and the Ministry of Environment.

Ensure the full commitment and support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (SAGARPA).

Stop the corvina gillnet fishery, which provides cover for illegal totoaba gillnets, and is expected to start this month.

Extend indefinitely the current two-year gillnet ban, which is due to expire in April.

Continue and expand efforts to retrieve and destroy “ghost nets” within vaquita habitats.

Work with fishing communities to find suitable economic alternatives and renew efforts to scale up the use of vaquita-safe fishing gear to ensure they and their families can have a more sustainable way of life.

In addition, WWF is also urging the U.S. government to take swift and decisive action to stop transborder shipments of totoaba products and calling for the Chinese government to immediately stop the illegal transport and sale of totoaba products.

WWF reiterates its commitment to continue working with fishing communities, the Mexican government, the international community and donors to ensure a future for vaquita, alongside sustainable livelihoods for local communities. This includes continued support of the Mexican government’s efforts to retrieve and destroy “ghost nets” within the habitat of the vaquita, as well as finding vaquita-safe fishing techniques.

After the Chinese river dolphin was driven to extinction in 2006, the world is now on the brink of losing a second cetacean species due to human activities. We cannot allow this to happen.

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