Illegal Fishing in Porpoise Refuge Rampant in 2022
Montreal—A key United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA) body recommended a formal investigation today into Mexico’s failure to comply with its fishing and wildlife trade laws, which is causing the near-extinction of the vaquita porpoise. Illegal fishing nets set to catch shrimp and totoaba, an imperiled fish coveted in China for its swim bladder, entangle and kill vaquita. Ten or fewer vaquita likely remain.
Today’s decision by the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an environmental dispute body established under the USMCA, responds to a 2021 petition by conservationists. For the first time, the secretariat identified several “central open questions” to be investigated, including questions “regarding [Mexico’s] compliance with the relevant laws and orders” and “the effectiveness of the measures taken.”
“This decision throws a dramatic spotlight on Mexico’s long-standing refusal to stop illegal fishing in the vaquita’s waters,” said Sarah Uhlemann, the Center for Biological Diversity’s international program director. “Mexico needs to acknowledge its own enforcement failures and actually follow through on its promises to save these little porpoises. Without strong action from Mexico, these beautiful animals will vanish forever.”
Scientists say vaquitas can survive but only if the Mexican government halts illegal gillnet fishing in the vaquita’s habitat. But the Mexican government has repeatedly failed to enforce its own laws. In November 2021, 117 boats were observed in a single day fishing illegally within the “zero tolerance area” in the Upper Gulf of California, an area so critical for the vaquita that all fishing and unauthorized vessel transit are supposed to be banned. Recent observations document hundreds of illegal boats in the same area between early December and late March 2022, including eight days where more than 30 illegal boats were spotted.
”Today’s announcement should send a clear signal to the government of Mexico that its 25 years of broken promises to save the vaquita have been exposed,” said DJ Schubert, wildlife biologist for the Animal Welfare Institute. “An objective and factual review of Mexico’s actions will reveal that successive administrations have failed the vaquita as a result of incompetence, budget cuts, corruption, and lack of political will.”
In March, the United States and other nations proposed serious sanctions against the Mexican government for violating the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) due to the country’s repeated failures to stop trafficking of totoaba parts. CITES prohibits international trade in totoaba, and vaquita become entangled in illegal totoaba nets that are set to capture the fish for export, primarily to China. In response, the Mexican government told the CITES Parties that there were only “exceptional cases” of fishing violations and that in recent months “there ha[d] been no more reports” of fishing vessels in the zero tolerance area, despite documented violations.
Clare Perry, oceans & climate campaign leader of the Environmental Investigation Agency, said: “This investigation is even more critical since members of the CITES Standing Committee failed to enact precautionary policies to save the critically endangered vaquita.”
Following today’s decision, the commission’s governing body, composed of high-level environmental authorities from the United States, Mexico and Canada, has 60 days to decide whether the review should go forward. If so, the commission’s secretariat will develop a full factual record on Mexico’s enforcement of both its fishing laws and trade in totoaba.
Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
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Sarah Uhlemann, Center for Biological Diversity
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Alejandro Olivera, Center for Biological Diversity
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Paul Newman, Environmental Investigation Agency
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The Animal Welfare Institute (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. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.
The Center for Biological Diversity (biologicaldiversity.org) is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Environmental Investigation Agency is an international campaigning organization committed to investigating and exposing environmental crime and campaigning to protect endangered species and the natural world. Visit us at eia-international.org and follow us on Twitter @EIA_News.