EIA: Last Chance to Save the Vaquita
The fate of the critically endangered vaquita could be decided at the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) being held in Geneva August 17-28.
A new report prepared for the meeting calls for trade suspensions to be imposed against Mexico for its failure to protect the small porpoise from illegal fishing.
The vaquita, the world’s smallest and most endangered cetacean, is only found in Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California. Scientists recently announced that an estimated 10 vaquita remain - a direct result of rampant and uncontrolled illegal fishing for totoaba, an endangered fish that is poached for its swim bladder. Totoaba swim 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 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. 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, says the EIA.
Clare Perry, EIA ocean campaigns leader and author of the report, said: “The apathetic response to the CITES decisions on the vaquita and totoaba is inexcusable in the face of imminent extinction of the vaquita. This is CITES’s last chance to spur real action to save the vaquita; unless the illegal fishing, and the illegal 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.”
The CITES parties are scheduled to discuss this issue during an evening session on August 20, where it is hoped that Mexico will be censured for its ongoing failures to stop the illegal fishing and trade in totoaba parts.
“For decades, Mexico has failed the vaquita and the international community by making and breaking multiple commitments to protect the species and its habitat,” said DJ Schubert, wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute. “CITES parties must act decisively to ensure that Mexico follows through and saves this species before the vaquita is lost forever.”