Save the vaquita porpoise, new report urges

save the vaquita
© iStock/David Schneider

A new report calls for sanctions against Mexico to save the vaquita porpoise, which is critically endangered due to extensive poaching.

International environmental NGO the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) published the report, titled ‘CITES’s Last Chance: Stop the illegal totoaba trade to save the vaquita’, as a call to action aimed 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), set to be held in Geneva later this month. The report details the results of a series of undercover investigations conducted by the EIA into illicit poaching activity in Mexico and China, as well as a fundamental failure by Mexico to take action on illegal fishing in its waters.

Efforts to save the vaquita – between six and 19 vaquita are currently alive in the world – have been deeply hindered by the widespread and illicit trade in totoaba maw. The totoaba, which is also seriously endangered, inhabits the Upper Gulf of California off the coast of Mexico, which is also home to the world’s limited remaining vaquita population. Extensive fishing for totoaba, whose maw is heavily trafficked between organised crime syndicates in Mexico and China, has contributed directly to the destruction of vaquita populations.

Animal Welfare Institute wildlife biologist DJ Schubert said: “For decades, Mexico has failed the vaquita and the international community by making and breaking multiple commitments to protect the species and its habitat. CITES parties must act decisively to ensure that Mexico follows through and saves this species before the vaquita is lost forever.”

The 17th Conference of the Parties meeting on CITES in 2016 saw participants pledge a series of measures to combat illegal fishing around Mexico in order to save the vaquita population; but since then very little official action has been taken.

Clare Perry, Ocean Campaigns Leader at EIA and the report’s lead author, said: “The apathetic response to the CITES decisions on the vaquita and totoaba is inexcusable in the face of the looming extinction of the vaquita. This is the last chance for CITES to spur real action to save the vaquita – because unless the illegal fishing and illegal trade driving it are stopped, there will simply be no vaquita left in existence at the next Conference of the Parties in 2022. That will be on us, a major extinction on our watch at the hands of criminals; and CITES must take the strongest possible steps at this meeting to avert such an outcome.”

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