Vaquita news from the SMM Conservation Committee

Despite serious efforts by the government of Mexico that warranted the Society’s first Conservation Merit Prize, vaquitas have continued to decline at a high rate. Papers describing the decline from 2011-2015 and the 2015 abundance estimate are now published and available by OpenAccess. The recovery team (CIRVA—Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita) reiterated the need for gillnets to be permanently banned (including all gillnets within the range of vaquitas including the fishery for totoaba’s smaller cousin the corvina).

After reviewing both the acoustic monitoring results that estimate numbers declined from 60 in 2015 to 30 in 2016 and the finding of many nets in the derelict gear removal program (details in the full report here) the team recommended accelerating attempts to place some vaquitas into a temporary sanctuary.  The team noted that the capture of all remaining vaquitas is not a viable conservation strategy for vaquitas, which must, first and foremost, be protected in their wild habitat.  They noted that activities to remove some vaquitas should not divert effort and resources away from extension and enforcement of the gillnet ban, which remains the highest-priority conservations actions for the species.

A coalition was formed called VaquitaCPR (details here) and despite not yet having sufficient funds they are targeting October as the month to attempt capture.  The continued campaign by Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro (here) is reporting high levels of illegal activities.  These activities peaked last year during the corvina season, which was recently suspended by SEMARNAT because of lacking approved Environmental Impact Statements.  No announcements have been made about continuing the 2-year gillnet ban that is set to expire this April.  Very recently the Mexican Congress, in agreement with CIRVA recommendations, reformed the Federal Penal Code and the Federal Law Against Organized Crime, to sanction with imprisonment and economic fines the illegal capture of several aquatic species, including the totoaba, considered more valuable than cocaine.  The document imposes sentences of two to 18 years in prison and criminally penalizes anyone who catches, alters, collects, transports or damages totoabas.