HomeNewsMexico's Vaquita Marina Struggle to Survive Amidst Intense Illegal Fishing in Mexico
NEWS

Mexico's Vaquita Marina Struggle to Survive Amidst Intense Illegal Fishing in Mexico

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME / 14 APR 2022 BY HENRY SHULDINER EN

The Mexican government's erratic approach to saving the vaquita marina porpoise in the sea off the northwestern state of Baja California has only furthered the critical threat illegal fishing poses for the species.

After years of collaboration with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to combat illegal fishing,  the Mexican government announced the birth of two vaquitas in early April. Both the non-governmental organization and the Mexican Navy credit their thorough patrols of the area for the small sign of recovery. Recent estimates had counted just eight vaquita individuals remaining in total.

SEE ALSO: Coronavirus Has Not Slowed Looting of Latin America’s Maritime Species

The news of the births came as a surprise, given that in July 2021, the Mexican government officially scrapped the zero-tolerance area (ZTA), where fishing had been banned inside the Vaquita Protection Refuge. While fishing with gillnets, long wall-like structures that are dragged along the ocean floor, remains banned, the government has replaced the zero-tolerance approach with a sliding scale of sanctions based on the number of fishing vessels in the area. Experts lampooned this move, with one calling it "madness...they are leaving the door open to dozens of vessels."

Adding to the pressure on the vaquita marina, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) approved the trade of captive-bred totoaba fish in March 2022. The swim bladders of the totoaba are prized as a delicacy in China and fetch high prices there, which made it a mainstay target for illegal fishing in Mexico.

Until March, international trade for the totoaba, which shares waters with the vaquita marina, had been illegal. This is likely to further encourage fishermen in the area.

While the vaquitas are not the target of illegal fishing, they are often bycatch. They become entangled in gillnets used to catch totoaba, shrimp and other fish.

InSight Crime Analysis

While controlling illegal fishing in the vaquita habitat would always be a challenge, Mexico's meandering approach to enforcement has made the situation even more difficult.

There have been some attempts at prosecuting wildlife traffickers. In February 2021, the government increased penalties for totoaba trafficking and followed this with several arrests of alleged totoaba traffickers linked to organized criminal groups. A source working for a conservation group in Baja California, who wished to remain anonymous for security concerns, said this was the first successful intelligence-led operation to take down totoaba traffickers.

SEE ALSO: Fish Bladders Mean Big Business for Chinese and Mexican Smugglers

The Mexican Navy, however, has few options to crack down on the number of vessels fishing inside the vaquita refuge.

According to the conservation source, the government’s unofficial policy towards illegal fishing in the area remains non-confrontational. "The navy's role is to ask fishermen to move their nets out of the ZTA without forcing them to do," the source explained. While there is some level of compliance, dozens of vessels are routinely spotted inside the refuge area.

Andrea Crosta of Earth League International (ELI) told Mongabay that while taking down larger criminal structures will help ensure the vaquitas' survival, the problem ultimately lies in tackling demand. Chinese traders operating in Mexico are the most critical link in the supply chain, moving the swim bladder to East Asia, according to Crosta.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ELITES AND CRIME / 11 FEB 2021

Mexico's tax authority has dismissed Ramón García Gibson, one of its highest-ranking officials, for “evident conflicts of interest” and his…

HOMICIDES / 9 AUG 2022

Little clarity has followed the brazen assassination of a local police chief in northern Mexico.

ELITES AND CRIME / 11 NOV 2021

The disgraced former governor of Chihuahua, César Duarte, may soon be on a flight home. A US judge approved his…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…