Mexico Isn’t Enforcing New Rules Meant To Protect Endangered Vaquita Marina

By Kendal Blust
Published: Friday, February 12, 2021 - 5:37pm

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fishing boats
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
Fishing boats at the docks in the small Mexican fishing town of San Felipe, Baja California, in October 2018.

Fishermen living near the habitat of a critically endangered porpoise in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez have not followed orders to turn banned fishing nets over to authorities. Nor has the government enforced the order.

Last September, federal authorities issued a decree expanding a “zero tolerance” zone in the uppermost part of the Sea of Cortez, where gillnets are banned to protect the nearly extinct vaquita marina porpoise. The small mammal can get ensnared in the nets and drown. There are only an estimated 10 vaquita left.

As part of the September order, fishermen were given 60 days to turn illegal nets over to authorities, or nets could be confiscated and those in possession sanctioned.

So far, however, not a single net has been surrendered.

"And the lack of enforcement continues," said Alejandro Olivera with the Center For Biological Diversity.

He said the Mexican government continues to publish new rules without applying those that have already been in place for years.

Many fishermen in the region say they’re refusing to abide by new regulations that hamper their ability to make an income, while rampant poaching for a large, endangered fish called the totoaba continues unchecked. The large nets used to catch totoaba are considered the leading threat to the vaquita. Some legal fishermen deny that their nets are also a threat to the little porpoise, though scientists largely disagree.

Still, many fishermen say they are willing to use alternative fishing gear, but that the government has failed to provide an acceptable option.

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