Vaquita conservation update
As promised in the news item posted 2 August regarding availability of the vaquita recovery team’s (CIRVA) report, this is an update following the most recent (5th) meeting of the Advisory Commission to the Presidency of Mexico for Recovery of the Vaquita (‘presidential commission’) in Mexico City, 31 July – 1 August 2014. At this meeting, the alarming findings from the acoustic monitoring program intended to track trends in the vaquita population (18.5% annual decline) and a new estimate of current abundance (97 individuals) were presented by Barbara Taylor on behalf of CIRVA. Presentations by Mexican authorities indicated that illegal fishing has continued in the northern Gulf of California and that the transition from gillnets to ‘vaquita-safe’ light trawls in the shrimp fishery has gone much slower than required under Mexican law. Most importantly, the illegal fishery for totoaba, a giant croaker whose swim bladder is highly valued in China as a ‘health food’, has resurged over the last few years, driving the dramatic decline in vaquita numbers because of mortality in the large-mesh gillnets used to catch totoaba.
Scientists from Mexico’s National Institute of Fisheries are currently reviewing CIRVA’s analyses of vaquita abundance and trend. The presidential commission will recommend a course of action to President Nieto when it meets again at the end of August. The shrimp fishery is scheduled to open in September, and it is urgent that the Mexican Government acts decisively and favourably on CIRVA’s recommendation to immediately eliminate and exclude gillnets from the full range of the vaquita. Other nations that consume fishery products from the northern Gulf of California also need to step up and help Mexico shut down the black market trade in totoaba swim bladders. Only by bold, swift actions can we expect to avert another extinction of a cetacean species following that of China’s freshwater dolphin, the baiji, less than a decade ago.