Update on Conservation Efforts for the Vaquita

In 1997, the Government of México convened a committee of international experts (CIRVA) to advise it on methods to save its endemic porpoise, the vaquita, from extinction. CIRVA met for the fourth time, in February 2012, in Ensenada, México.

CIRVA recognized that since 2008 México established a Vaquita Refuge in the core of the vaquita’s distribution and initiated a scheme of monetary compensation to eliminate gillnetting and industrial trawling within this Refuge.  That scheme reduced, but did not eliminate, un-permitted fishing. The Government of Mexico, with significant support and funding from US government agencies and other groups, conducted a new survey of vaquita abundance, established an acoustics program to monitor population trends, and developed an alternative, “vaquita-safe” method for catching shrimp.  Never before has so much serious effort and funding been invested to protect the vaquita.  Without these efforts, vaquitas might already have reached a state where recovery would not be possible.

However, information presented at the February 2012 meeting showed that the vaquita population is still declining and now likely consists of fewer than 200 individuals.  The Vaquita Refuge protects only about half of the population and illegal gillnet fishing is still common inside the Refuge. Also, gillnets are still commonly used to catch shrimp and finfish outside the Refuge. CIRVA concluded that if the continuing decline in vaquita abundance is not halted within the next five years (by 2017), the species may be too depleted to ever recover.

Based on information presented at this meeting, CIRVA made a number of recommendations, the most important being:

  • All gillnets and other entangling nets need to be removed from the vaquita’s entire range.
  • Artisanal shrimp fishing vessels should be converted immediately from using gillnets to using small trawls.
  • Additional research is needed to develop vaquita-safe methods to fish for finfish with artisanal vessels. Spatial management measures are needed that provide access incentives for shrimp fishermen who use small trawls rather than gillnets.
  • A legal limit on the length of gillnets and the number of nets per vessel needs to be enforced for fisheries with such limits, like the shrimp fishery.
  • A legal limit on the length of gillnets and the number of nets per vessel needs to be established and enforced for all other fisheries (besides the shrimp fishery).
  • More effective enforcement of no-fishing regulations within the Vaquita Refuge is needed.
  • The boundaries of the Vaquita Refuge should be changed as described in the report.
  • The current acoustic monitoring scheme should continue for at least the first planned 5-year period so that vaquita population trends can be tracked and recovery strategies adapted accordingly.

The full report of the workshop is available here:

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