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Doubts Cast by Experts on Mexico’s Promise to Safeguard Endangered Porpoise


This undated file photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a vaquita porpoise. Mexico’s Environment Ministry announced a new program to protect endangered porpoises Thursday, April 13, 2023, saying it has led to the cancellation of trade sanctions by the international wildlife organization CITES. Credit: Paula Olson/NOAA via AP, File

Mexico’s environment ministry promised to do more to protect endangered porpoises on Thursday, avoiding trade sanctions imposed by the international wildlife organization CITES.

The ministry said several steps would be taken, including controlling illegal gillnet fishing that can trap and kill the vaquita, the world’s most endangered marine mammal.

But the experts had concerns, saying Mexico had made and failed to deliver on nearly the same promises in the past and even reneged on some earlier pledges.

There are at least eight vaquitas left in the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of ​​Cortez, the only place they live. The species cannot be captured, kept or bred in captivity.

In late March, CITES called on its 184 member states to halt trade with Mexico in products associated with sensitive species, such as orchids, cacti, crocodile skins and snakes, as punishment for continued fishing in the Vaquita Protection Area in the Upper Gulf. California.

The authority said Thursday that those sanctions were lifted after the agreement with Mexico.

CITES – Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – regulates trade and protection of endangered species. Trade in some protected species, such as crocodiles harvested for use in shoes or handbags, is permitted, but such trade is closely regulated.

Alejandro Oliveira, Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity, expressed doubts about Mexico’s declaration.

“The Mexican government has been promising this since it published a plan in September 2020. I don’t know what the difference is now,” he said.

Mexico has been slow to stop illegal gillnet fishing for Totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder is a delicacy in China. The nets used to catch Totaba also trap and drown the vaquita.

The Mexican government has promised CITES that it will control approved landing and release areas for fishing boats and ensure they do not break into the relatively small “exclusion zone” where the last vaquita was seen.

Dozens of boats are still regularly seen fishing in the area, despite a program by the Mexican Navy to sink concrete blocks in the area with hooks to ram illegal nets.

Locals say illegal gill-net boats still regularly set off from the dock in the seaside town of San Felipe in broad daylight.

Oliveira said a GPS satellite monitoring system to track where boats go was promised by officials but that the Mexican government stopped paying for the service some time ago.

Experts also said that the government often fails to post any regulatory or enforcement officials at the docks and boat launching sites and that many fishermen illegally launch their boats from the area’s beaches.

Mexico’s plan lists implementing “alternative fishing techniques” for gillnet fishing as a top priority, but experts note that the government has promised to do this in the past but never paid for it. As a result, they say, private groups are struggling to provide alternative fishing gear that doesn’t trap and drown the vaquitas.

“There is still illegal shrimp trawling, and the main points of boat launching and docking are still without inspectors,” Oliveira said. “At the moment it is all on paper, and the vaquita is on the brink of extinction, so all of these measures need to be implemented now, urgently.”

Government protection efforts have been uneven, at best, and often also meet with violent opposition from local fishermen.

President Andrés Manuel López’s administration has largely refused to spend money to compensate fishermen for staying out of the vaquita refuge and to stop using gillnets.

The activist group Sea Shepherd, which has joined the Mexican Navy on patrols to deter poachers and help destroy gillnets, says the effort has reduced gillnet catches. But with just a few vaquita left, it might not be enough.

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the quote: Experts doubt Mexico’s pledge to protect endangered porpoise (2023, April 14) Retrieved April 14, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-experts-mexico-pledge-endangered-porpoise.html

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