Ban on Use of Gillnets Made PermanentVaquita – Only 60 Left

Government announces new measure to protect vaquita porpoise

International calls to end gillnet fishing in waters inhabited by the endangered vaquita marina porpoise have been heeded by the Mexican government.

The National Aquaculture and Fisheries Commission, Conapesca, yesterday announced a permanent ban on using gillnets in the upper Sea of Cortés.

To take effect in September, the ban follows a call by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to extend a two-year gillnet moratorium and make it permanent. It warned that Mexico was in danger of losing its heritage site status for the islands and protected areas in the Sea of Cortés.

When that status was granted in 2005 it was based in part on the presence of the vaquita and the totoaba, which were seen as having “outstanding universal value.”

The gillnets are a threat to the vaquita, whose numbers have declined to an estimated 60, because they are caught along with the totoaba, a species whose swim bladders is a delicacy in China.

Conapesca said fishermen will have to leave and return from specially designated docks to enable the enforcement of the ban. The head of the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico sees that as an important factor.

Oscar Vidal described the announcement as “very welcome” but would like to hear more. “It is important that they explain in detail how the announced enforcement measures will work, and how these measures will stop the illegal fishing of totoaba, which is the main reason this porpoise is on the brink of extinction.” Vidal also believes the ban should be extended to the entire upper Sea of Cortés and not just the designated protected area.

Another international environmental group also welcomed the ban but predicted the measure was insufficient to save the vaquita. The Sea Shepherd Society, which last year entered into an agreement with the government to monitor the porpoise, suggested that all fishing should be banned in the area due to the difficulty of combating illegal fishing at night.