At later meetings, CIRVA made a series of recommendations, most important amongst them “that bycatch of vaquitas must be reduced to zero as soon as possible, that gillnets and trawlers should be banned from the Biosphere Reserve, that research should start immediately to develop alternative fishing techniques to replace gillnets, and that the international community should be invited to join the Government of Mexico and provide assistance to implement the conservation measures”.
In 1993 the Mexican government created the Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Delta Biosphere Reserve, which has a goal to protect the vaquita. The Biosphere Reserve banned gillnet fishing in an area near the mouth of the Colorado River. In 2005 an additional Refuge Area for the Protection of the Vaquita covering the central part of the vaquita’s range was created. Gillnet fishing in the Refuge Area was officially prohibited, but there was little enforcement and the ban was widely ignored. The necessity of eliminating vaquita bycatch completely for the species to persist is demonstrated by a recently published study (Gerrodette and Rojas-Bracho, in press) that evaluated three options for a protected area closed to gillnet fishing. The probability of success of each option was estimated with a Bayesian population model, where success was defined as an increase in vaquita abundance within 10 years. If protection remained as it is at present, within the existing vaquita Refuge Area, the chance of vaquita abundance increasing over that period was only 8%. If the area under protection was slightly larger as proposed in the PACE (see below), the probability of success was still low at 35%. The only management option judged certain of success (> 99% probability) was a protected area large enough to eliminate vaquita bycatch throughout the entire range of the species. This study clearly demonstrates that if the conservation actions remain at only the present level, the vaquita is unlikely to survive.
In 2007 Mexico’s President announced the Conservation Program for Endangered Species (PROCER), which required Conservation Action Programs (PACE) for selected species. The vaquita was the first listed. The fundamental objective of PACE-Vaquita is to put into practice CIRVA’s recommendations to conserve and facilitate recovery of the vaquita population. The central goal is to eliminate vaquita bycatch. Given that fishing is one of the most important economic activities in the northern Gulf of California, PACE-Vaquita includes measures to remove the fishing gear that threatens vaquitas by:
1) Enforcing the existing bans on gillnet fishing in the Biosphere Reserve and Refuge Area, and possibly expanding the ban to a larger protected area;
2) Encouraging alternative methods of fishing that do not catch vaquitas; and
3) Providing economic compensation to fishermen, including a buyout plan and assistance with starting alternative businesses.
Important results from the implementation of PACE are:
(1) Declaration of a Vaquita Refuge free of entangling nets and shrimp trawlers;
(2) Withdrawal of 230 artisanal fishing boats from fishing activities; and
(3) Participation of 105 artisanal fishing boats in the fishing gear replacement program.
The Mexican Government has made an enormous economic and political investment in supporting vaquita conservation. To date, about 26 million USD has been spent to reduce fishing effort in a region where fishing is the main economic activity. This has been accomplished via buy-out/rent-out, improved surveillance and enforcement, providing socioeconomic alternatives to fishermen, and testing alternative fishing gear. However, despite these efforts, about 600 artisanal boats (pangas) continue to fish with gillnets within the range of the vaquita. Given the critically small size of the vaquita population, time is running out. Unless bycatch is completely eliminated by banning entangling nets throughout the species’ range, the vaquita will soon join the baiji as a second cetacean species to be rendered extinct by human actions.
The above provides a background to the vaquita and its conservation. The CSG regularly posts news items and updates about vaquite conservation and these can be found on our News page or at the following links:
February 2018 – Cooperative Net Removal Efforts Increase to Save Vaquitas
January 2018- Vaquita rescue efforts suspended
May 2017 – vaquita on the verge of extinction
January 2017- Jan 2017 update on the decline of vaquita
December 2016- Update on the Vaquita
June 2016- ‘Extinction Is Imminent’: New report from Vaquita Recovery Team (CIRVA) is released
May 2016- Stronger protection needed to prevent imminent extinction of Mexican porpoise vaquita, new survey finds
April 2016- Vaquita Update: Three documented deaths in one month, not good
February 2016- December 2015 Vaquita Update
December 2015- Update on Vaquita Survey
October 2015- Vaquita sightings on Mexican Expedition inspire hope
July 2015- Vaquita decline even faster than expected
April 2015- President of Mexico launches plan to save the vaquita
January 2015 – Finally: Announcement from Mexico regarding vaquita conservation
December 2014 – New evidence that Mexican authorities are not adequately enforcing fishing regulations
August 2014 – Vaquita conservation update
August 2014 – New CIRVA report released
April 2013 – New Presidential Commission to save vaquita takes first steps
April 2012 – Update on vaquita conservation
For more information on the vaquita and the recovery program click on the following links:
Instituto Nacional de Ecología (INE):
Comisión de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP):
US Marine Mammal Commission
Rojas-Bracho, L. and Reeves, R. R. (2013). Vaquitas and gillnets: Mexico’s ultimate cetacean conservation challenge. Endangered Species Research 21: 77-87
Barlow, J., Gerrodette, T., & Silber, G. (1997). First estimates of vaquita abundance. Marine Mammal Science, 13, 44–58.
D’Agrosa, C., Lennert-Cody, C. E., & Vidal, O. (2000). Vaquita bycatch in Mexico’s artisanal gillnet fisheries: driving a small population to extinction. Conservation Biology, 14, 1110–1119.
Gerrodette, T., & Rojas-Bracho, L. (2011). Estimating the success of protected areas for the vaquita, Phocoena sinus. Marine Mammal Science.
Gerrodette, T., Taylor, B.L., Swift, R., Rankin, S., Jaramillo-Legorreta, A. M., & Rojas-Bracho, L. (2011). A combined visual and acoustic estimate of 2008 abundance, and change in abundance since 1997, for the vaquita, Phocoena sinus. Marine Mammal Science.
Jaramillo-Legorreta, A. M., Rojas-Bracho, L., & Gerrodette, T. (1999). A new abundance estimate for vaquitas: first step for recovery. Marine Mammal Science, 15, 957–973.
Jaramillo-Legorreta, A., Rojas-Bracho, L., Brownell, R. L. Jr., Read, A. J., Reeves, R. R., Ralls, K., & Taylor, B. L. (2007). Saving the vaquita: immediate action, not more data. Conservation Biology, 21,1653-1655.
Jaramillo‐Legorreta, A., et al. (2016). “Passive acoustic monitoring of the decline of Mexico’s critically endangered vaquita.” Conservation Biology.
Norris, K. S., & McFarland, W. N. (1958), A new harbor porpoise of the genus Phocoena from the Gulf of California. Journal of Mammalogy, 39, 22–39.
Rojas-Bracho, L., & Jaramillo-Legorreta, A. M. 2009. Vaquita Phocoena sinus. Pp. 1192-1196 In: Perrin, W. F., Würsig, B., & Thewissen, J. G. M. (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. 2nd Edition. Academic Press. New York, U.S.A. 1352 pp. + 739 ills.
Rojas-Bracho, L., Reeves, R. R., & Jaramillo-Legorreta, L. (2006). Conservation of the vaquita Phocoena sinus. Mammal Review, 36, 179-216.
Rojas-Bracho, L., & Taylor, B. (1999). Risk factors affecting the vaquita (Phocoena sinus). Marine Mammal Science, 15, 974–989.
Vidal, O. (1995). Population biology and incidental mortality of the vaquita, Phocoena sinus. Report of the International Whaling Commission (Special Issue), 16, 247–272.
Vidal, O., Brownell, R. L. Jr., & Findley, L. T. (1999). Vaquita Phocoena sinus Norris and McFarland, 1958. In: Handbook of Marine Mammals: Volume 6 The Second Book of Dolphins and the Porpoises (Eds. by Ridgway S. H., & Harrison, R.), pp. 357–378. Academic Press, San Diego, California.