President of Mexico launches plan to save the vaquita
On 15 April 2015 President Enrique Peña Nieto made the first visit by any Mexican President to San Felipe (one of the two main fishing centers bordering the new gillnet exclusion zone) to announce the Program on the Comprehensive Care of the Upper Gulf, which will require cooperative action by the State Governments of Sonora and Baja California, several federal Ministries, among them Interior, Defense and the Navy, Agriculture and Livestock, and the Attorney General’s Office. This public declaration of a program to save both the vaquita and the totoaba, emphasizing Mexico’s commitment to maintain the 10% of global biodiversity that occurs within its borders, can be an important step towards changing conservation practices. The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has lead responsibility for coordinating program implementation.
- Expansion of the area of the Vaquita Refuge
- Suspension of fishing activities that represent risk to vaquitas for two years
- Financial compensation to licensees, fishermen and related workers in the shrimp, finfish and shark fisheries
- A community-based surveillance and enforcement scheme
- Strengthening Mexico’s capacity to combat illegal fishing for totoaba.
As reported on this website in mid-January 2015, the Government of Mexico had agreed to implement a nearly complete ban on the use of gillnets (and longlines, apparently related to totoaba conservation) in the portion of the northern Gulf of California covering all confirmed sightings of vaquitas since the 1980s (1.3 million hectares). Although the ban addresses one key recommendation by the international vaquita recovery team (Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita, or CIRVA), it remains to be seen to what extent implementation of final measures, as published in Mexico´s Federal Register on 10 April 2015, will address CIRVA’s other recommendations, including the concerns about the draft agreement expressed by CIRVA last December.
Within days following the President’s announcement and launch of the new program, reports were received of 85 pangas (gillnet fishing boats) entering the water at San Felipe and of more than 20 pangas fishing within the Vaquita Refuge. Arrests of two offenders were made using the new Defender high-speed enforcement boats operated by the Navy. No illegal fishing within the Vaquita Refuge has been observed since the arrests although there are reports of nighttime fishing that will require special enforcement efforts.Photo Left – Pangas with illegal fishing gear (shown by the presence of multiple flags indicating multiple nets). Photo Right: One of the five new Defender high-speed enforcement boats turned over to the Navy during the Presidential ceremony. Two of these will operate in the northern Gulf of California. Navy control of enforcement is a new and important step towards strengthening conservation in this area.
A positive development is that vaquitas were seen and videotaped in April by a Sea Shepherd vessel, see http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/2015/04/22/miracle-on-the-water-1684.
A joint Mexico-US vaquita survey is being planned for later this year. It will include a strong acoustic component to cover the shallow portions of vaquita distribution.