What May Be The Vaquitas Last Chance For Survival & Mexico’s Responsibility To Save Them, Will Be Addressed At CITES Convention On August 20th

A new report, prepared for the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), urges that trade suspensions be imposed against Mexico for its failure to protect vaquitas from illegal fishing.

The vaquita, the world’s smallest and most endangered cetacean, is found only in Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California. Tragically, it is estimated that only 10 vaquitas remain in the wild; a direct result of rampant and uncontrolled illegal fishing for totoaba, an endangered fish that is poached for its swim bladder. Totoaba bladders are trafficked by organized criminal syndicates from Mexico to China where they are highly valued for their purported medicinal properties. Prices can exceed $20,000/kg.

“CITES’s Last Chance: Stop the Illegal Totoaba Trade to Save the Vaquita” details undercover investigations by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) into the illegal totoaba trade in Mexico and China, and describes Mexico’s persistent failure, despite repeated promises, to save the vaquita from entanglement in gillnets set for shrimp, totoaba and other fish species.

“The apathetic response to the CITES decisions on the vaquita and totoaba is inexcusable in the face of imminent extinction of the vaquita,” Clare Perry, EIA ocean campaigns leader and author of the report, said in a statement. “This is CITES’s last chance to spur real action to save the vaquita. Unless the illegal fishing and trade that drives it is stopped, there will be no vaquita at the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties. CITES must take the strongest possible steps at this meeting.”

One vaquita death has been documented so far this year, and the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) reported in March that “enforcement efforts have been completely ineffective in reducing the illegal totoaba fishery in the Upper Gulf of California.”

CIRVA emphasized that the vaquita is not yet extinct and recovery remains a possibility, albeit slim. These porpoises are still producing offspring and the remaining animals are healthy, showing no signs of disease or malnutrition.

In 2016, CITES parties adopted a series of decisions aimed at addressing the illegal fishing and trade of totoaba. However, Mexico’s partial implementation of these regulations lacked the necessary force and urgency.

“Even as vaquita porpoises teeter on the very edge of extinction, the Mexican government is still failing to protect them,” said Alejandro Olivera, the Mexico representative of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The world is watching, and President Lopez Obrador has to stop all gillnet fishing and save the vaquita.”

The CITES parties are scheduled to discuss this issue during an evening session on August 20th.

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