Biden Declines Call to Embargo Products From Mexico Over Endangered Vaquita Crisis
President Joe Biden has decided against imposing an embargo on products from Mexico after the country was sanctioned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for failing to protect vaquitas by curbing illegal totoaba fishing.
Vaquitas are critically endangered porpoises with only about 10 individuals left in the population. They have faced threats from illegal fishers, who use gillnets to trap totoaba, a type of fish whose swim bladder is used in traditional medicines and foods and can sell for thousands of dollars per pound. It is illegal to fish for totoaba, but people have continued illegally fishing for them in protected areas. The vaquitas can die from entanglements in the gillnets.
CITES sanctioned Mexico in March 2023 for failing to stop illegal totoaba fishing and thereby failing to protect the few remaining vaquitas left.
In May of this year, Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland certified that Mexico was involved “in trade or taking that diminishes the effectiveness of any international program for the conservation of endangered or threatened species,” under the U.S. Pelly Amendment.
Haaland cited that Mexico has failed to abide by CITES Appendix I, which makes trade of both totoaba and vaquita parts illegal.
With this certification, Biden was given until July to decide whether or not to take action against Mexico, the Animal Welfare Institute reported.
“Mexico has failed the vaquita and ignored its obligations under international law, so this step is crucial,” Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “No one relishes painful trade sanctions, but without strong, immediate pressure from the international community, there’s a good chance we’ll lose this shy little porpoise forever.”
Biden announced on July 17 that he would not move forward with a trade embargo, instead noting that other actions — such as having executive department and agencies carry a dialogue with Mexico about next steps to reduce illegal fishing, assisting Mexico in complying with CITES measures, and having the Department of the Interior develop an assessment over the next year on Mexico’s actions to enforce the CITES Compliance Action Plan — were sufficient.
The President noted he will reassess the situation in one year and said potential trade restrictions may be possible next July without improvements on curbing illegal fishing.
“I’m disappointed in the U.S. government for doing so little to save vaquitas from extinction,” Uhlemann said in a statement. “These are the rarest marine mammals in the world, and yet the United States has let the Mexican government off the hook again. Mexico has a long, painful history of failed promises on protecting these little porpoises. The United States needs to apply the strongest pressure and ban seafood from Mexico until there’s real enforcement on illegal fishing in their habitat. The last 10 vaquitas are at stake.”