Vaquita Update: New Fishing Regulations in the Upper Golfo de California

Yaqui for Borderland Beat from: Excelsior / vivavaquita/ wwf

They will ban all gill-nets in the habitat of Vaquita Marina Porpoise:
Fishermen from San Felipe, Baja California and the Gulf of Santa Clara, Sonora, are still waiting for support.
Vaquita, the world’s rarest marine mammal, is on the edge of extinction. The plight of cetaceans—whales, dolphins, and porpoises—as a whole is exemplified by the rapid decline of the Vaquita in Mexico, with about 10 individuals remaining. This little porpoise wasn’t discovered until 1958 and a little over half a century later, we are on the brink of losing them forever. Vaquita are often caught and drowned in gillnets used by illegal fishing operations in marine protected areas within Mexico’s Gulf of California. The population has dropped drastically in the last few years.
The vaquita has a large dark ring around its eyes and dark patches on its lips that form a thin line from the mouth to the pectoral fins. Its top—the dorsal surface—is dark gray, its sides are pale gray, and its underside—the ventral surface—is white with long, light gray markings. Newborn vaquita have darker coloration and a wide gray fringe of color that runs from the head to the flukes, passing through the dorsal and pectoral fins. They are most often found close to shore in the Gulf’s shallow waters, although they quickly swim away if a boat approaches them.
Two years after the start of the new government, Conapesca and Inapesca have the urgency to launch a comprehensive care plan for the Upper Gulf of California, where there is a complete ban on netting to the fishing communities of San Felipe, Baja California and the Gulf of Santa Clara, Sonora.
The fear that moves them is the possibility that the United States will extend the fishing embargo that has been in force in the region since August 2018 to the 17 coastal states of the country, and that it may apply greater trade sanctions against Mexico, from the tightening of T-MEC environmental rules.
What I call “the midnight mexicanos” set their gill nets furtively at night in prohibited zones to catch the Totoaba fish, which has been illegal for years, due to the fact that they themselves were on the brink of extinction. They make the set, poach the totoaba fish, ie, being the correct term; and try to collect their nets , their take and be back “in port” by dawn.  If they caught any Totoaba fish the fishermen keep only the bladders which they can hide easily. The entire rest of the fish is thrown back to the sea, while their mostly poor families often go hungry. Keeping the Totoaba flesh is such a flagrant fishing rule violation that the poaching fishermen cannot take the chance of being caught on the water by a surprise inspection nor at the pier with the flesh to feed their families.

The strategy of limiting gill netting of all fish in the Vaquita protected zone has caused the areas panga fishermen to set up fish camps south along the coast , ie south of San Felipe. However, with more and more resources pouring into such agencies as PROFEPA because of international pressure, there has been a much bigger presence of law enforcement / fishing inspectors checking boats on the water. Entire fishing villages or fish camps, which are built with the most rudimentary materials imaginable, have been abandoned, thus swelling the populations of San Felipe. Left with little tourism and sketchy fishing many fishermen have found no recourse but to trade in swim bladders on the black market.

By limiting the take of the Totoaba fish and the Totoaba recovery efforts, which has included raising millions of fry and releasing them back int the wild, the Totoaba fish have made a successful comeback. However, now that their swim bladders have become so valuable, the reward out-ways the risks of poaching.
The new agreement for the habitat of the Vaquita porpoise, is already in the last revision by the Legal Units of the Secretary of the Navy (Semar), Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) and the Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development (Sader), for publication as soon as possible in the Official Gazette of the Federation (DOF).
With time over, due to the start of the shrimp season in September, the “new strategy” for the Upper Gulf of California, which they assure already has the backing of the United States Government, will now prohibit the use of all gillnets or gillnets in the Vaquita protection zone, including those which often also catch the olive ridley turtle. Gill-nets come in a variety of shapes and sizes, the size of the openings in the mesh of the net has strict applications.
To achieve the replacement of traditional fishing gear, the National Commission for Aquaculture and Fisheries (Conapesca) and the National Institute of Fisheries (Inapesca), will have the financing of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which will seek to generate new technologies for catches.
The tests with alternative fishing nets such as the so-called “suriperas” and “ecological mongo”, previously tested with unsatisfactory results for the cooperatives, will be carried out from this coming 3 to 5 August and from 18 to 20 August. As you may imagine the locals are not happy.
So far, there is no clarity about the compensation programs that legal fishermen will receive, who remain in uncertainty, with the only promise that the Secretariats of Welfare, Tourism, Labor and Public Education, among others, will have a budget to achieve the integral development of the communities and promote productive programs.
The idea of ​​Conapesca and Inapesca is that with the total elimination of gillnets in the habitat of the vaquita marina, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States (NOAA), the comparability of its fisheries and thereby reopens the borders of the protection zone to the take of shrimp, sardines, milkfish, sierra, herring, mackerel, anchovies and corvina, caught by smaller and medium-height vessels from the Upper Gulf of California.
The comparability term means that Mexico has to have a regulation comparable to that of the United States, to avoid the by-catch of protected species.
A Firm Hand:
On July 19, Excelsior announced that the new strategy prepared by the Government of Mexico is based on the inspection and surveillance that the Secretary of the Navy (Semar) will carry out in the region, which needs to apply a heavy hand to stop at once for all the illegal capture of Totoaba fish and the use of prohibited nets, where the most dangerous marine mammal in the world dies from drowning when caught in these illegal gill-nets, along with alot of other by-catch, in an area already designated as off- limits for fishing due to the nearly extinct vaquita marina porpoise.
The coastal fishermen’s cooperatives believe that as long as the rule of law is not restored in the Upper Gulf of California, the law is applied and there is no impunity, all other actions will remain as pipe dreams again.

            PROFEPA facilities at the pier in San Felipe last March 29, 2019 when the Fishermen’s
Co-Operativa faced off with Military authorities. What started off as a protest became a riot , which ended with the fisherman burning down the PROFEPA facility and breaking down the chain link fence into the large storage yard that was filled with confiscated pangas, motors and vehicles. The fisherman , literally, dragged boats on trailers by hand out of the yard reclaiming them before the flames took them. Pick ups zoomed in from every direction of town hitching up trailers and the reclamation was achieved. All this led to police and Military chases, amazingly only one person was injured.

Last Year of the Int’l Save the Vaquita Day?

They stressed that protocols and decisions are required when fighting poaching, since they recalled the case of Enrique García Sández, “El Kiki”, former Profepa inspector turned “totoabero”, who in March 2019 was wounded when he was shot by elements of the Navy during a car chase, and in the end the authorities ended up apologizing and paying him compensation.

Please return to BB’s ongoing series called “Cocaine of the Sea”, thusly named after the price paid for a Totoaba fish’s dried swim bladder which fetches enormous prices and is sold mostly to Chinese on the black market, which is controlled by highly organized crime groups, both Mexican and Asian mostly out of Mexicali and Tijuana, BC.