Mexico’s environment department pledged on Thursday to do more to protect the endangered vaquita marina porpoise in a bid to fend off trade restrictions by international wildlife body CITES.
The department said a number of steps would be taken, including controlling illegal gillnet fishing, which can by-catch and kill the vaquita, the world’s most endangered marine mammal.
But experts had misgivings, saying that Mexico has made nearly identical promises in the past and failed to deliver on them, and has even reneged on some past promises.
It is estimated that there are only eight vaquitas left in the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, the only place it is known. The species cannot be bred, held, or bred in captivity.
At the end of March, CITES called on its 184 member countries to end trade with Mexico for products involving sensitive species, such as orchids, cactus, and the skins of alligators and snakes, which could harm the vaquita conservation in the upper Gulf. was as punishment for continuing fishing in the area. California.
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The body said on Thursday that those restrictions had been lifted following an agreement with Mexico.
CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – regulates trade and protection for endangered species. Trade is permitted in some protected species, such as crocodiles harvested for use in shoes or handbags, but such trade is closely regulated.
Alejandro Oliveira, Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity, expressed skepticism at Mexico’s announcement.
“The Mexican government has been promising this since it published a plan in September 2020. I don’t know what difference it’s going to make now,” he said.
Mexico has been slow in stopping illegal gillnet fishing for totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder is considered a delicacy in China. The nets used to capture totaba trap and drown vaquitas as well.
The Mexican government promised to CITES that it would control approved landing and launching zones for fishing boats and ensure they did not intrude on the relatively small “exclusion zone” where the last vaquitas were seen.
Despite a program by Mexico’s navy to sink concrete blocks in the area with hooks to trap illegal nets, dozens of boats are still regularly seen fishing in the zone.
Local residents say boats with illegal gillnets still regularly leave docks in the seaside town of San Felipe in broad daylight.
Oliver said a GPS satellite monitoring system had been promised by authorities to track the boats, but the Mexican government had stopped paying for the service some time ago.
Experts have also said that the government often fails to deploy any regulatory or enforcement officers at docks and boat launch sites and that many fishermen launch their boats illegally from the area’s beaches.
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Mexico’s plan lists implementing “alternative fishing techniques” for gillnet fishing as a top priority, but experts say the government has promised to do so in the past but never paid for it. Did. As a result, he says, private groups are struggling to supply alternative fishing gear that will trap and not drown vaquitas.
“There is still illegal fishing with nets, and major points for launching and docking boats are still without inspectors,” Oliver said. “Right now, everything is on paper, and the vaquita is on the verge of extinction, so all these measures must be implemented immediately.”
Government conservation efforts have been uneven, and often face violent opposition from local fishermen.
President Andrés Manuel López’s administration has refused to spend massive amounts of money to compensate fishermen for being forced to stay outside the vaquita refuge and stop using gillnets.
Activist group Sea Shepherd, which has joined the Mexican Navy in helping fishermen stop and destroy gillnets, says the efforts have reduced gillnet fishing. But with so few vaquitas left, it may not be enough.
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