Cancellation of gillnet fisheries in the Upper Gulf of California
- Urgent measure to strengthen the economy of local fishing communities and save the vaquita
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recognizes the will and commitment of the Mexican government, the fishing communities, civil society and the private and philanthropic sectors, and joins in the efforts to save vaquita from extinction through the cancellation of gillnet fisheries that incidentally catch this porpoise in the Upper Gulf of California, as announced today by the Mexican Government.
WWF supports this initiative aimed at the sustainable development of this important Mexican region, through responsible fisheries and other economic activities for the long-term benefit of fishers and their families, while ensuring the protection of this unique and endangered Mexican porpoise.
The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) estimates that less than 100 vaquitas survive and concluded in 2014 that the only way to save this porpoise is the elimination of all the gillnets within its habitat (http://assets.worldwildlife.org/publications/713/files/original/2014_Vaquita_Report_Fifth_Meeting_of_CIRVA.pdf?1408479198).
Suspension of gillnet fisheries and fair compensation to fishers
To save the vaquita, Mexican federal authorities will suspend gillnet fisheries within its habitat for a two year period, through a decree to be effective in early March. This decree excludes fishing nets used in the curvina fishery (February-April of each year) because its size and method of use does not represent any threat to vaquitas. The implementation and compliance of this decree will be supported by an annual US$ 36 million investment by the Mexican government to support:
- A buy-out program that will allow fishers and their families to maintain their income – US$ 28 million
- People involved in the productive chain of the fishing sector in the communities of El Golfo de Santa Clara (Sonora) and San Felipe (Baja California Norte) – US$ 2 million
- A significant increase of surveillance by local communities, to support official surveillance and enforcement efforts – US$ 6 million
Gillnets - legal and illegal - have caused the decline of the vaquita population. CIRVA estimated that, between 1997 and 2008, the vaquita population decreased at an annual rate of 8.4%. In 2008, the federal government, fishing communities and civil society organizations implemented important actions to save this species achieving the reduction of the annual decrease rate to 4.5%, as well as several mid-term conservation measures. Unfortunately, in 2012, the annual decrease rate climbed to 18.5% due to two factors: (i) an increase of the totoaba fishery, a highly endangered fish whose swim bladder is illegally exported to China through the Mexico - U.S. border; and (ii) the increase of the illegal gillnet shrimp fishery (gillnets that exceed the authorized dimensions).
Sustainable fisheries in the Upper Gulf: a long-term vision
The recuperation of the vaquita population will take decades and requires that not a single vaquita dies in fishing activities anymore. The two-year gillnet suspension is an important window of opportunity to promote and escalate the definitive adoption of sustainable fishing gears - that already exist - and to further develop new alternatives to transform the fishing industry of the Upper Gulf with a vision of long-term sustainability and concrete local economic and social benefits for local communities.
Challenges and opportunities
The cancellation of gillnet fisheries and the fair compensation to fishers is the most important public policy measure taken so far to save this porpoise since the establishment of the Upper Gulf and Colorado Delta Biosphere Reserve in 1993. The main challenges for the implementation of the actions agreed among the federal authorities and fishers include:
- That surveillance and enforcement are effective and permanent to ensure the implementation of the decree, including definitively halting the illegal fishing of totoaba – the support of the Mexican Navy will be fundamental for this
- That economic support be delivered to fishers in a coordinated and transparent way, and that reach all those that depend from fisheries, not only the few that posess fishing permits – for this, the role of Ministry of Environment (SEMARNAT) and the National Commission for Fisheries (CONAPESCA) is key
- That the government compensations be accompanied by an integral development program supported by the federal and state governments – Ministry of Social Development (SEDESOL), Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), Ministry of Tourism (SECTUR, and the states of Sonora and Baja California Norte
- That the number of fishers using the small trawl shrimp net (that does not catch vaquitas) be increased and that they are supported for the construction of these nets and the required equipment
- That other experimental fishing gears that do not catch vaquitas are further developed and improved (fish traps for example), fishers be trained to use them and that they receive support for their manufacture
- That preferential markets be developed in Mexico and the United States (mainly in California) that buy and commercialize shrimp and fish catch with gear that does not catch vaquitas, to economically recognize the commitment of fishers with legality, sustainability and the protection of vaquita.
The role of WWF
For more than 15 years, WWF has worked together with environmental and fishing authorities, local communities, civil society organizations and the national and international private sector to save the vaquita and to seek for sustainable options for fishing communities. During the last 7 years, WWF has joined the efforts of the National Fisheries Institute, the National Commission for Aquaculture and Fisheries, the National Commission for Protected Areas, and the fishers of the Upper Gulf to develop innovative fishing gears and technologies that do not catch vaquitas and allow fishers to earn their livelihoods.
Today, WWF joins the efforts of the federal government and fishing communities through:
- Support to the fishers of the El Golfo de Santa Clara and San Felipe for the development, manufacture, training and use of vaquita-safe fishing gears
- Support in the search and development of long-term preferential markets for sustainable fishing products from the Upper Gulf of California in Mexico and the United States
- Support the monitoring of the vaquita population to evaluate the impact of the conservation measures implemented by the Mexican government
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with almost five million supporters and a global network active in more than 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.
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