On the 6th June 2013 the Government of Mexico took an important step to save the vaquita. The Mexican ‘Official Norm’ establishes shrimp fishing standards in Mexico and defines which gear is permitted in different zones of the country. The Government has adopted important modifications to the Norm which will require the progressive substitution of shrimp drift gillnets, one of the main fishing gears in which vaquitas die incidentally, with more selective gear that does not kill porpoises. The Mexican government ordered a three-year, gradual substitution of drift gillnets for the new selective net RS.INP.MX (30% the first year, 30% the second and 40% the third). The RS.INP.MX selective net was developed and tested by the National Fisheries Institute (INAPESCA) of the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), in collaboration with the National Commission for Protected Areas (CONANP) of the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and civil society organizations including WWF. Support came from the Alianza WWF-Fundación Carlos Slim, the Marisla Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the International Whaling Commission.
The RS.INP.MX (acronym for “Selective Net of the National Fisheries Institute-Mexico”) is a small driftnet adapted for use with small vessels (6 meter fiberglass “pangas” with four-stroke gasoline outboard engines) that has a number of features that make it more selective than the gillnets, including a turtle excluder device, a “Fisheye” type fish excluder to exclude smaller-sized species and a double headline or lower line with rollers to reduce damage to the seabed. It is composed of lighter materials to reduce fuel consumption and minimize seabed damage. Mesh size decreases progressively along the net to avoid capturing non-target species. The net has hydrodynamic trawl doors to reduce resistance and increase efficiency, and its smaller dimensions mean it can be deployed from artisanal fishing vessels (“pangas”).
The Norm can only be applied effectively if there is participation and commitment from local fishermen. Also, optimal use of the new light trawls requires particular skills; therefore, the support of the government and other organizations through training and temporary compensation programs will be essential.