Over 800 totoaba swim bladders seized– April 2018 Vaquita update

In several separate enforcement actions, over 800 totoaba swim bladders were seized in April 2018 (see news article).  An in-depth television news story on the illegal totoaba fishery and enforcement efforts was also released (available in Spanish here).

On 12 April, shots were fired at the Sea Shepherd vessel M/V Sharpie followed by a quick response from the Mexican Federal Police officers on board and by the arrival of a Navy patrol vessel in under 10 minutes (see video here).

Despite these dangers, the net removal effort has continued and more nets were removed in April than in any past month during totoaba season.  Although numbers are not directly comparable across years, the 139 removed in April compared with the 36 removed last April makes clear the high level of illegal fishing and the failure to protect vaquitas through enforcement action.

With fewer than 30 vaquitas remaining and the idea of rescuing some by capturing them and placing them in a managed enclosure not considered viable, conservation action is now focussed on enforcement and net removal. The current enhanced net removal effort during the totoaba spawning season will last through May 2018. Because the net removal effort is critical to saving the vaquita, progress is updated on this website monthly.

The map (Source: Siegenthaler, N. 2018.  Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Internal Reports) shows active nets removed from December 2017-April 2018 by all net removal operations.  The yellow dots are active totoaba nets removed prior to March 2018 and the black dots are those removed during March only.  The black line denotes the Vaquita Refuge and the orange line the enhanced enforcement area.

The table shows the number of active totoaba nets removed, by ship, during the totoaba spawning season.  JPD stands for the ship Jean Paul Dejoria, which was replaced by the Sharpie in March.  The Narval belongs to the Museo de Ballena of La Paz and the other ships to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. “n/a” stand for ‘not applicable’ since the ships did not operate in that month.

December
January
February
March
April
Total
Narval
n/a
2
36
20
19
77
Farley Mowat
2
0
9
44
69
124
JPD
16
27
51
5
n/a
99
Sharpie
n/a
n/a
n/a
35
51
86
Total
18
30
96
104
139
386

Despite focusing the enhanced net removal efforts and enforcement in areas of overlap between vaquita distribution and illegal fishing activity, the removal of active totoaba nets is apparently following the pattern of the last two years, which has resulted in the continuing dramatic decline in vaquita numbers.  Direct comparisons of the number of nets removed by Sea Shepherd efforts in different years are not valid because the nature of the effort has been evolving (details in this Report by CIRVA members who visited the Upper Gulf earlier this year).  The searching efficiency of the net removal vessels has improved due to the use of sonar, while the illegal fishermen have become better at avoiding net detection and removal by spotting search activities and setting their nets at times and in places where they are less likely to be discovered.  However, the data in the table and figure clearly indicate that illegal fishing persists.  So far, there is no indication that enhanced enforcement is being effective.

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