one green planet
one green planet

A trade authority has sanctioned Mexico for failing to prevent illegal fishing practices that have led to the near extinction of the vaquita porpoise, the world’s most critically endangered mammal. Vaquitas, which are endemic to Mexico’s Gulf of California and named after the Spanish word for little cow, have seen their population decline from 600 in the 1990s to only about 10 today. They are being trapped and drowned in illegal nets used by Mexican fishermen to catch fish and shrimp, including the totoaba, a large fish whose swim bladders are considered a delicacy in China. They can sell for $20,000 to $80,000 per kilogram or more on the black market.

Source: Al Jazeera English/Youtube

In September 2020, Mexico imposed new fishing regulations in response to a ban by the US government on the import of products from Mexican fisheries operating in the vaquita’s habitat. However, in the summer of 2021, the Mexican government relaxed the enforcement of its fishing ban in the exclusion zone. Consequently, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora gave Mexico until February 28, 2023, to devise a plan to protect the porpoise. After finding Mexico’s program inadequate, the convention barred the country from exporting any of the 3,150 Mexican species listed under CITES or products made from them.

While vaquita conservationists observe the zero tolerance area in the Gulf of California, they have noted eight vessels illegally fishing there earlier this month. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Natural Resources Defense Council are pressing the US government to impose sanctions on Mexico under the Fishermen’s Protective Act of 1967 for failing to stop international trade in totoaba.

It is a positive step that international bodies are imposing sanctions on Mexico. Still, individual action is also required to protect the vaquita and prevent other endangered species from meeting the same fate. One can start by making responsible seafood choices and purchasing only from sustainable fishing sources. Additionally, individuals can use their voices and call on governments to take meaningful steps to protect endangered species like the vaquita. Recognizing that each person’s actions and choices can impact the planet and the wildlife that calls it home is essential.

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