Vaquita dies in illegal gillnet; NFI Mexican Shrimp Council says it is “committed to protection”

Published on
March 11, 2020

A vaquita has been found dead in an illegal gillnet in the norther Gulf of California in Baja, Mexico, leaving just a handful of the critically endangered porpoises remaining on Earth.

A video posted by a local fisherman and sent to Mexican newspaper Reforma shows the drowned vaquita, which is believed to have become entrapped on March 1 or 2. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has pushed the U.S. and Mexican governments for more protection of the species, estimates the total number of remaining vaquita at just nine individuals.

Last week, in response to the crisis, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service expanded its ban on imports of seafood caught in vaquita’s habitat. Notice of the ban was posted in the U.S. Federal Register on 9 March and it will go into effect 3 April.

“The news is another crushing blow to the prospects of the vaquita’s survival,” NRDC Senior Attorney Zak Smith said in a prepared statement.Last week’s expanded seafood import ban in the U.S. will help squeeze the Mexican government to take the action that should have happened long ago: Eliminate the gillnet fishing practices in its waters that are exterminating the vaquita. Every nation on the planet should consider similar bans of seafood fished from the vaquita’s habitat.”

Also on 9 March, the Mexican Shrimp Council, operated by the National Fisheries Institute, the trade body for the U.S. seafood industry, released a statement emphasizing its commitment to ensuring the vaquita and other marine mammals are protected “using sustainable fishing methods.”

“As companies that fish following rules and regulations, we regret this development,” said Mexican Shrimp Council Chair David Castro, the owner of Los Mochis, Sinaloa, México-based seafood supplier Manta Bay. “We understand the U.S. government’s need to consider new information and developments in its decision-making. Mexican Shrimp Council members have and will continue to ensure its shrimp is caught sustainably.”

NMFS’ expanded import ban now includes almost all seafood caught in Mexico’s northern Gulf of California, including trawl-caught shrimp; corvina, sierra, and sardines caught via purse-seine net; sierra caught with hook-and-line; and almost any seafood caught with a gillnet, including anchovy, herrings, sardines, mackerels, croaker, and pilchard.

“The Mexican Shrimp Council regrets that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has revoked comparability findings related to the government of Mexico’s protections for fisheries in the Upper Gulf of California. NMFS revoked that status for seven fisheries, noting a lack of comparable effectiveness in the Mexican government’s program to protect marine mammals, especially the vaquita,” the council said in its release. “The [council] looks forward to working with the U.S. and Mexican governments to determine what specific and actionable steps need to be taken to assure regulators that protections for marine mammals are effectively enforced.”

Mexican Shrimp Council membership includes Amende & Schultz, AquaStar, Associasion de Productores Acuicolas del Estado de Sonora A.C. (APAES), National Chamber of Fisheries and Aquaculture Industries (CANAINPESCA), Deep Sea Shrimp Importing Co., Delta Blue,

Eastern Fish Company, Manta Bay, Meridian Products, Mexican Shrimp Paradise, and Ocean Garden Products.

“It’s important that our U.S. customers understand that working with Mexican Shrimp Council members will ensure their shrimp was caught using fishing methods that do not interact with vaquitas,” Castro said. “Our shrimp sent to the United States will have documentation to ensure it is traced to sustainable catch methods.” 

Photo courtesy of Thomas A. Jefferson/National Resources Defense Council

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