Boston Ad Campaign Warns of Imminent Extinction of Vaquita Porpoise

Conservation Organizations Say Consumer-Led Mexican Shrimp Boycott May Be Necessary to Save Species

Boston Ad Campaign Warns of Imminent Extinction of Vaquita Porpoise

BOSTON, MA—Through an ad campaign, a coalition of conservation and animal welfare organizations are warning Bostonians and city visitors that a nationwide consumer-led boycott of Mexican shrimp may be necessary to save the vaquita, a vanishing porpoise species that resides in the Gulf of California. The advertisements, which depict a dead vaquita and ask “Is it time to boycott Mexican shrimp?” will run on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Silver Line through Sunday, April 12.

This is the first of several campaigns planned by the coalition for the United States, Mexico, and China to highlight the plight of the vaquita and to urge stronger actions to save the species. Boston was selected to kick off the campaign because it hosted Seafood Expo North America, an event attended by Mexican fisheries officials and shrimp importers, last month.

The ad campaign is spearheaded by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), the Center for Biological Diversity (The Center), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). iVIVA Vaquita!, andone of its member organizations, V-log also support the effort as does the Society for the Preservation of Endangered Carnivores and their International Ecological Study (S.P.E.C.I.E.S.).

Today, fewer than 100 vaquita survive in the Upper Gulf of California and are declining at almost 19 percent per year, as decades of gillnetting for shrimp has decimated the species. Although gillnetting is ostensibly banned in vaquita habitat, illegal fishing is rampant in the area, with much of the shrimp caught in the region exported to the United States. Mexican law enforcement agencies are doing little to stop these activities. The illegal use of gillnets in the area to capture the totoaba, a fish whose swim bladders are highly valued in China, is also contributing significantly to the vaquita’s march toward extinction.

In late February 2015, Mexican authorities announced a two-year ban on gillnetting in vaquita habitat, compensation for affected fishermen and others employed in the fishing industry, and increased enforcement to combat illegal fishing. However, conservation groups consider the Mexican government’s plan of action, which will not even take effect until late April, as “wholly inadequate.” To save the species, the coalition is calling for an immediate and permanent ban on the use of gillnets, a substantial ramping up of law enforcement efforts (including adding more agents to conduct patrols), and aggressive international efforts led by Mexico, the United States, and China to end the illegal totoaba trade.

“If Mexico’s plan to save the vaquita is not strengthened, then it will be worthless,” said Susan Millward, executive director of AWI. “Other actions, including a potential consumer-led boycott of Mexican shrimp products in the United States, may be the species’ last line of defense against extinction.”

Representatives from the coalition met with Mexican government officials and shrimp industry representatives at the Seafood Expo to discuss the plight of the vaquita and to make clear that they won’t hesitate to pursue stronger actions, including a potential consumer-based boycott of Mexican shrimp, to ensure the protection of the vaquita given the deficiencies in Mexico’s plan.

“If the vaquita is to survive beyond the end of this decade, Mexico must immediately put an end to deadly gillnet fishing in its habitat,” said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at The Center.  “While many in the Mexican government are truly dedicated to saving the vaquita, only the threat of sanctions or a consumer boycott has pushed senior officials to announce a plan of action, and the continuing possibility of such sanctions will be necessary if we are to see the plan actually implemented.”

In addition to laying the groundwork to launch a consumer boycott, the coalition is pursuing legal avenues to force the United States to impose trade sanctions on Mexico.

“Unfortunately, Mexico's plan amounts to nothing more than a roadmap for vaquita extinction, said Zak Smith, staff attorney at NRDC. “Plagued by half-measures, a record of ineffectual enforcement, and a general failure to accept the seismic shift in approach necessary to save the species, Mexico's plan offers solace only for those wishing to shield themselves from change.”

"The Mexican government has spent millions of dollars and countless hours in hopes of rebuilding the vaquita population,” said Aidan Bodeo-Lomicky, V-log founder. “The two-year ban on gillnet use would be a perfect stepping stone towards this goal if, and only if, it is tirelessly enforced. Unfortunately, it is now apparent that the government’s effort will be wasted as Mexico does not plan on adequately enforcing the ban, or agreeing to a long-term prohibition on the use of gillnets.”

“The vaquita is a unique porpoise species unlike any other on the planet—a precious little piece of our biological heritage, which is disappearing before our eyes,” states Dr. Thomas Jefferson, director of iVIVA Vaquita! “We have the ability to save the vaquita and benefit the long-term prospects of the people of the upper Gulf of California if we have the foresight to do what is needed before it is too late.”

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Media Contact:
Amey Owen, 202-446-2128, amey@awionline.org

About the Animal Welfare Institute
The Animal Welfare Institute (www.awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. For more information, visit www.awionline.org.

About The Center for Biological Diversity
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. Online at: www.biologicaldiversity.org.  

About the Natural Resources Defense Council
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

About ¡VIVA Vaquita!
¡VIVA Vaquita!is a coalition of like-minded scientists, educators, and conservationists, who strive to increase the attention given to the vaquita, the world's most endangered marine mammal species. Our goals and mission are to generate awareness of the vaquita and to promote a healthy Upper Gulf of California ecosystem. We conduct research, public awareness and education activities to bring this about. Ultimately, we aim to help save the vaquita from extinction, and to do so in a way that also provides long-term benefits to the fisherman and other residents who live around the Gulf of California, Mexico. For more information, visit http://www.vivavaquita.org/.

About V-log
V-log, a member of ¡VIVA Vaquita!, is a leading source of vaquita news and information. V-log was founded in 2011 and is dedicated to spreading awareness of the vaquita and to promote its protection and conservation through tabling at public events, social media, petitions, and art. It was founded and is run by 15-year-old Aidan Bodeo-Lomicky, who lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and who recently published the second edition of his book The Biology of an Endangered Porpoise. More information is available at: www.vlogvaquita.com or at https://m.facebook.com/profile.php?id=596115387135582&ref=bookmark.

About S.P.E.C.I.E.S.
The Society for the Preservation of Endangered Carnivores and their International Ecological Study (S.P.E.C.I.E.S.) is dedicated to the study, conservation, and preservation of carnivores throughout the world.  Dr. Anthony Giordano, the founder and executive director of S.P.E.C.I.E.S., is also personally committed to the protection and recovery of the vaquita.  For more information, visit www.carnivores.org.