Presidential Letter to President Obrador Response Regarding Vaquita

See letter received from Director General Gonzalez Azuara regarding SMM’s 9 November 2019 Presidential Letter about the vaquita.

See the version of this letter sent in Spanish on March 13, 2020
See the version of this letter sent in English on March 13, 2020

Dear President López Obrador,

On 9 November 2019 I wrote, on behalf of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, to convey our deep concern about the need to protect the few surviving vaquitas. I am writing again, in response to a letter from Director General Gonzalez Azuara (received 26 November 2019), because the situation for the vaquita has deteriorated further.

We were distressed to see photographic evidence of yet another vaquita dead in a totoaba net (photo taken in early March 2020). The Mexican government’s response to our letter of 9 November 2019 (both our letter and the response are attached) indicates that the areas protected for vaquitas are marked by buoys. This information is not in agreement with a recent net- removal update posted on the IUCN/SSC Cetacean Specialist Group (CSG) website (vaquita update ), which confirms that only four buoys are currently deployed and they mark the corners of the Zero Tolerance Area; no buoys mark the boundaries of the Vaquita Refuge. Moreover, the buoys marking the Zero Tolerance Area were installed by a private group, the Museo de Ballena, in cooperation with PROFEPA. The website update also illustrates the locations where illegal totoaba nets have been removed – 106 in total so far this season. Additionally, a report on the most recent vaquita field research ( content/uploads/2020/03/2020-Vaquita-Field-Report.pdf), in September-October 2019, describes illegal fishing that was occurring before the current totoaba season (and the 2019-2020 net-removal effort) began.

The Mexican government’s response letter to the Society’s earlier letter of concern suggests that illegal activities should be reported to the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection. However, we are not aware of any charges being laid despite the fact that government enforcement authorities are on-board the net-removal vessels and therefore they must know about the illegal activities (which are also summarized on the openly available CSG website). It is difficult to envisage how they could be made more visible to authorities.

March has traditionally been the peak month of illegal totoaba fishing. Already this month, at least one vaquita has been killed. Research in 2019 documented three new calves, all apparently healthy. We interpret this as evidence that vaquitas still have the potential to recover, but only if real protection is put in place immediately. Inaction will certainly result in the vaquita’s extinction, a tragedy that will be linked directly to your administration’s unwillingness to enforce your nation’s laws.

On behalf of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, I ask your government to take immediate and decisive action to protect vaquitas as well as the brave and dedicated individuals who are putting their lives on the line to save this critically endangered species. The fates of the vaquitas and those working to protect them are in your hands.

D. Ann Pabst
President, Society for Marine Mammalogy

Dr. Victor Villalobos Arambula – Secretario de Agricultura y Desarrollo Rural
Dr. Victor Manuel Toledo Manzur – Secretario de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales
Lic. Raúl Elenes – Comisionado Nacional de Acuacultura y Pesca
Almirante José Rafael Ojeda Durán – Secretario de Marina
Honorable Olga Sánchez Cordero – Secretaria de Gobernación
Ivonne Higuero – Secretary General CITES
Mechtild Rössler – Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre
Peter Shadie – Director of the IUCN World Heritage Programme
Jon Paul Rodriguez – Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission