Quantcast

China, Mexico and U.S. Target Illegal Totoaba Trade to Save Nearly Extinct Vaquita

Animals
Vaquita killed in gill net fishery for totoaba in El Golfo de Santa Clara, Sonora, Mexico. Christian Faesi / Omar Vidal

As the first trilateral meeting of the governments of China, Mexico and the U.S. on illegal totoaba trade came to an end Friday, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) urged swift action to halt the trafficking of totoaba swim bladders and save the vaquita.

The world's most endangered marine mammal—the vaquita porpoise—is teetering on the brink of extinction as individuals are trapped as bycatch in gillnets cast illegally to capture totoaba—also a critically endangered species.


The totoaba and vaquita are species endemic to the Upper Gulf of California in Mexico, part of the Gulf of California World Heritage site. In recent years, unsustainable fishing practices and illegal wildlife trafficking have seen populations spiral downward, with vaquita numbers plummeting to as low as 30 or fewer individuals remaining.

As the majority of totoaba swim bladders follow an illegal trade route from Mexico through the U.S. to China, the first trilateral meeting, held this week in Ensenada, Mexico marks a potential turning point against totoaba trafficking where decisive action could bolster ongoing conservation efforts to protect the last remaining vaquitas. At the meeting, where WWF was participating as an observer, the three countries agreed to promote cooperation on investigating organized wildlife crime networks and strengthen customs training, paving the way toward improved collaboration in enforcement measures.

"Cross-border collaboration is essential to tackle a challenge at the scale of global wildlife crime," said Dr. Margaret Kinnaird, WWF wildlife practice leader. "Political will has long been a bottleneck in international efforts to crack down on illegal totoaba trade and the trilateral meeting marks a crucial moment that can mobilize the high-level policy efforts and collective determination needed to dismantle criminal syndicates and save the vaquita."

The meeting comes less than two months after the implementation of a permanent ban on the use of gillnets in the Upper Gulf of California as part of the strong commitment of the Mexican government to prevent the vaquita's extinction. The ban will be further accompanied by the retrieval of all abandoned or lost "ghost" nets within the vaquita habitat and the development of new fishing gear and techniques for local communities—measures considered imperative by WWF to halt the vaquita population decline and secure its habitat.

"As we head into a new fishing season in the Upper Gulf of California, the meeting reminds us all that we—and the vaquita—have no time to lose," said Jorge Rickards, director general of WWF-Mexico. "The commitment we have seen at the table today is promising but our work has only just begun. We urge the three countries to rapidly move to action even as we work together with local communities and partners to create a gillnet-free and healthy Upper Gulf of California—for both marine life such as the vaquita and totoaba, and people."

WWF has been working with the government of Mexico and other partners to identify and implement a comprehensive long-term strategy to save the vaquita and secure its habitat in the Upper Gulf of California, an important source of income, food and livelihood for thousands of people in the country. WWF was invited by the Mexican government to participate in the trilateral meeting as an official observer, alongside high-level representatives including Sec. of Environment and Natural Resources Rafael Pacchiano Alamán, as part of this ongoing cooperation.

"It is critical to leave no stone unturned in our efforts to save the vaquita and it is encouraging to see Mexico lead the way," added Rickards. "In the past months, the government has announced financial support for captive totoaba production, dispatched naval forces to the vaquita habitat and cracked down decisively on illegal fishing and we hope the discussions today lead to concrete actions that strengthen the impact of these efforts."

The trilateral meeting was organized as a follow-up to the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, in Johannesburg in 2017 where China, Mexico and the U.S. committed to maintain cooperation and coordination in combating illegal fishing and trade in totoaba.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire on Nov. 15, 2018 in Paradise, Calif. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Respecting scientists has never been a priority for the Trump Administration. Now, a new investigation from The Guardian revealed that Department of the Interior political appointees sought to play up carbon emissions from California's wildfires while hiding emissions from fossil fuels as a way to encourage more logging in the national forests controlled by the Interior department.

Read More
Slowing deforestation, planting more trees, and cutting emissions of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases like methane could cut another 0.5 degrees C or more off global warming by 2100. South_agency / E+ / Getty Images

By Dana Nuccitelli

Killer hurricanes, devastating wildfires, melting glaciers, and sunny-day flooding in more and more coastal areas around the world have birthed a fatalistic view cleverly dubbed by Mary Annaïse Heglar of the Natural Resources Defense Council as "de-nihilism." One manifestation: An increasing number of people appear to have grown doubtful about the possibility of staving-off climate disaster. However, a new interactive tool from a climate think tank and MIT Sloan shows that humanity could still meet the goals of the Paris agreement and limit global warming.

Read More
Sponsored
A baby burrowing owl perched outside its burrow on Marco Island, Florida. LagunaticPhoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Burrowing owls, which make their homes in small holes in the ground, are having a rough time in Florida. That's why Marco Island on the Gulf Coast passed a resolution to pay residents $250 to start an owl burrow in their front yard, as the Marco Eagle reported.

Read More
Amazon and other tech employees participate in the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice continue to protest today. Karen Ducey / Getty Images

Hundreds of Amazon workers publicly criticized the company's climate policies Sunday, showing open defiance of the company following its threats earlier this month to fire workers who speak out on climate change.

Read More
Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach at Lerata village, near Archers Post in Samburu county, approximately 186 miles north of Nairobi, Kenya on Jan. 22. "Ravenous swarms" of desert locusts in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia threaten to ravage the entire East Africa subregion, the UN warned on Jan. 20. TONY KARUMBA / AFP / Getty Images

East Africa is facing its worst locust infestation in decades, and the climate crisis is partly to blame.

Read More