Vaquitas get action from CITES as totoaba poaching resumes
By Barbara Taylor, Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho and Kristin Nowell
On 27 March 2023 the Secretariat of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) notified signatory countries to stop all commercial trade in CITES-listed (in Appendix I or II) species from Mexico. This decision stems from the inadequacy of actions taken by Mexico to prevent totoaba from being poached and vaquitas from being ‘collateral damage’ in the illegal gillnet fishery. The sanctions will remain in place until Mexico submits an adequate compliance action plan. Once approved, Mexico’s implementation of its action plan will be evaluated at the next meeting of the CITES Standing Committee in early November in Geneva to determine whether sufficient progress has been made by then. Further details are given in several news reports:
- Mexico Sanctioned for not protecting endangered porpoise – https://www.usnews.com/news/news/articles/2023-03-25/mexico-sanctioned-for-not-protecting-endangered-porpoise
- International wildlife body CITES calls on 184 member countries to stop trade with Mexico – https://mexicodailypost.com/2023/03/29/international-wildlife-body-cites-calls-on-184-member-countries-to-stop-trade-with-mexico/
While gillnet fishing effort remains much lower than in the past within the Zero Tolerance Area (ZTA) (see previous CSG news posting), outside this small area there is no evidence that gillnetting has been reduced. Further, fishing with alternative vaquita-safe methods is very rare in waters near the ZTA. Totoaba are just arriving on their annual spring migration to spawn, and recent reports indicate that they are being subjected, immediately upon arrival, to intensive poaching pressure (https://www.excelsior.com.mx/nacional/desatada-pesca-ilegal-de-totoaba-con-todo-y-sanciones-comerciales/1578081 or a machine translated English version here).
The Mexican Navy’s deployment of concrete blocks with entangling hooks within the ZTA, where vaquitas have spent most of their time in recent years, appears to have had a positive effect so far. The number of gillnetting pangas (small fishing boats) observed inside the ZTA has been reduced. This reduction may be due not only to the deterrence effect of the anti-gillnet devices but also to the Navy’s enforcement efforts with support from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS). Since vaquitas cannot survive for long in waters where gillnets are used, the species’ recovery depends on both rigorous adherence to the ZTA’s no-entry rule and ensuring that all fishing in vaquitas’ historical range in the Upper Gulf outside the ZTA is vaquita-safe.