By Cliff White, Executive Editor
Published on Thursday, March 16, 2017
Citing the need for emergency action to save the dwindling population of the endangered vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, representatives of several conservation-focused organizations are calling for a boycott on shrimp sourced from Mexico.
Fewer than 40 individual vaquita live in their natural habitat in Mexico’s northern Gulf of California, and biologists estimate the species will become extinct within three years if no action is taken, according to a press release from the Animal Welfare Institute, which is spearheading the boycott movement along with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity.
“This is the vaquita’s very last chance,” Sarah Uhlemann, international program director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “For decades, Mexican officials have failed the vaquita, and now only the strongest of actions will get their attention. To save these wonderful little porpoises, we have to boycott Mexican shrimp.”
While shrimp fishing has contributed to the dwindling vaquita population, recently, gillnets used in the illegal poaching of totoaba, an endangered fish whose swim bladder is in high demand in Asia, have been the primary cause of the vaquita’s demise. Organizers said boycotting the lucrative shrimp sector in Mexico is a method of forcing the Mexican government to take more drastic action to save the vaquita. Specifically, the NGOs are calling for a complete ban on gillnet use in the Gulf of California, as well as a concerted effort to remove illegal nets from the water and increase marine enforcement efforts.
“Vaquitas have run out of time,” said Zak Smith, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. “With just a handful of these unique, diminutive porpoises left, Mexico’s half-hearted baby steps are wiping the vaquita out. Mexico must be bold and ensure a 100 percent gillnet ban in the Gulf of California or it is going to be responsible for the extinction of this precious species.”
In 2015, in an effort to stem the vaquita’s decline, Mexico established a two-year ban on gillnet use within the vaquita’s range, but actual enforcement of the ban has been “dismal,” according to the boycott organizers. Even so, with the end of the two-year ban coming up next month, the Mexican government has not said if it will extend or better enforce the ban.
The campaign was timed to launch before the opening of Seafood Expo North America, taking place 19 to 21 March in Boston. The boycott organizers will have a mobile billboard outside the expo and have launched a website identifying Mexican shrimp products available in the U.S. market and contact information for companies known to purchase Mexican shrimp. The website also provides contact information for Mexican government officials.
Requests for comment made by SeafoodSource on Thursday morning to the Consulate General of Mexico in Boston, the Mexican Shrimp Council and ComePesca, the Mexsican seafood trade group, have not yet received responses.