Mexico Places Armed Guards on Sea Shepherd Vessels
Two Sea Shepherd vessels, John Paul DeJoria and Farley Mowat, now each host six Mexican enforcement officers onboard.
The vessels are stationed in the Sea of Cortez where less than 30 vaquita porpoises remain in existence. Due to a loss of over 90 percent of the species between 2011 and 2016, Sea Shepherd is working to remove gillnets from the porpoise’s habitat.
The species is being decimated as bycatch. The vaquitas are ensnared in gillnets set to harvest another critically endangered species: the totoaba, a type of sea bass. Its swim bladder is sold on black markets in China and Hong Kong to make a soup of unproven medicinal benefits. A single totoaba swim bladder can fetch more than $20,000.
The Mexican government is continuing its efforts to prevent the extinction of the vaquita, including partnering with Sea Shepherd for the past three years. This relationship with Sea Shepherd has been bolstered by the government’s ongoing support, including placing armed Marines, Federal Police, Fisheries Officers and agents from the Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection on board the organization’s vessels. The officers have the ability to make arrests and will work to prevent poaching in the refuge and ensure the proper disposal of dead totoaba fish.
The move comes at a time where tensions are rising in Upper Gulf of California. Poachers have become more aggressive towards Sea Shepherd vessels, using firearms to shoot down drones and incendiary objects to intimidate the crew.
Thanks to the addition of armed enforcement agents, security has drastically improved, says Sea Shepherd. To date Sea Shepherd has removed 541 pieces of illegal fishing gear from the Sea of Cortez since starting its effort to protect the vaquita porpoise in 2015, saving over 2,500 marine animals in the process.
The Mexican secretariat for the Environment announced a new plan to save the vaquita on February 9, including a new protected area, where efforts will be focused to remove illegal nets.