June 30, 2017: Today, the Government of Mexico announced a permanent ban on the use of gillnets in the Upper Gulf of California.
“This is a fantastic and encouraging step forward in the path to saving the vaquita, provided the ban is fully enforced and accompanied by fishing alternatives for local communities,” said Jorge Rickards, acting CEO of WWF-Mexico
WWF continues to stress the need for local communities to have access to vaquita-safe gear and for Mexican, US and Chinese governments to coordinate to end the illegal trade of totoaba swim bladders from these waters. Without collective action, both the last remaining vaquitas and the outstanding biodiversity of their habitat remain at risk.
A new agreement gives hope for the critically endangered vaquita. Signed by the Government of Mexico, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, and the Carlos Slim Foundation, and formally supported by WWF, the agreement includes a permanent ban on gillnets in vaquita habitat, as well as the development of new fishing gear and techniques to allow local communities to resume legal, sustainable fishing activities.
These measures were urgently requested by WWF and 200,000 of its supporters in order to halt the vaquita’s extinction. With less than 30 individuals known, the vaquita is the world’s rarest marine mammal. Its drastic population loss—less than half of what numbers were just last year—is due to human activity, specifically the use of fishing nets that catch and accidentally drown the porpoise. Vaquitas share habitat with the totoaba fish, a species whose bladder is highly prized in Asia and is traded illegally through Mexico, the US and China.
While the vaquita is still at great risk, today’s agreement is a key step toward ensuring a prosperous future the vaquita as well as the people and wildlife of Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California. Protecting the vaquita from gillnets and ensuring the people of the region have access to sustainable livelihoods are essential if we are to save this species.
WWF supports the implementation and monitoring of the agreement’s measures but there is more that needs to be done. Specifically, we ask that any additional plan to save the vaquita include the following:
- Immediate authorization of the use and promotion of existing alternative fishing gear (not allowed under current law/regulations), while new sustainable fishing techniques are being developed
- Clearly articulated prohibition on the transport and/or possession of gillnets in and around the Upper Gulf of California
- Urgent, coordinated efforts by the Mexican, US, and Chinese governments to end the illegal trade of totoaba swim bladders that is driving rampant use of gillnets in the Upper Gulf of California
WWF also asks that any future effort to provide sanctuary for remaining vaquita and breed them in captivity be explicitly linked to a plan that returns vaquita to the wild once their habitat is secure.