Authorities in Mexico have proposed a $37 million plan to ban gillnet fishing in the upper Sea of Cortez off the nation’s Pacific coast that will protect the critically endangered vaquita,a rare species of porpoise that is native to the northern part of the Gulf of California. The word “vaquita” is Spanish for “little cow,” and the species is the smallest and most endangered of its kind.
“The plan would compensate fishermen for stopping the use of nets that often sweep up the tiny porpoises along with their catch,” writes Fox News. “Recent reports suggest that there are fewer than 100 of the shy,elusive porpoises left in the Sea of Cortez,which is also known as the Gulf of California.”
This region is the only known place on Earth where these unique marine mammals are found and the new ban would greatly increase the existing no-net protected reserve areas,which are located around the mouth of the Colorado River delta. Submitted in late December,the proposal could be implemented in as little as a couple of months following a mandatory period of public consultation.
“The new area would essentially include almost all of the vaquitas’ known range,” writes Fox News. “The ban would initially be in place for two years.”
Presented by Mexico’s Agriculture and Fisheries Department,the plan proposes to pay fishermen to work instead to patrol the area and report violations of the net ban. In addition,some non-invasive net fishing techniques would still be permitted during certain months of the year.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF),the main challenge will be enforcing the ban,since currently the vaquita’s biggest threat actually comes from China’s great desire for totoaba swim bladders,despite the fact that fishing for totoaba is already illegal. Many fishermen are willing to risk the repercussions,since chefs in China are more than willing to pay high prices for the bladders,making it a highly lucrative,albeit illicit,industry for Mexican fishermen.
“If this works well,then Mexico will have given the world a unique example to demonstrate that it is possible to save an endangered species and support sustainable fisheries,” stated Omar Vidal of the WWF. “But with perhaps only a couple of dozen reproductively mature females left,there isn’t much time left.”
Unfortunately,experts have found that catching vaquitas to breed in captivity is not a viable option,since there are too few left in the wild to realistically catch enough of them to begin a successful breeding program. In addition,the remaining porpoises are spread out over a rather large area,and chasing them down for capture would endanger the few that remain.
Vaquita porpoises aren’t the only fascinating marine mammals found in the Sea of Cortez,check out this article about whale watching season in Cabo San Lucas,Mexico!