Today, the total population of marine vaquitas is estimated around 30 individuals
The Vaquita Marina or Phocoena sinus is an endemic cetacean who lives in the reserves of the high Gulf of California and of Mexico. In 1997, the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity of Mexico estimated a total population of 567 vaquitas, but by the year 2007, another report showed a tremendous reduction to only 150 specimens. Today, the population of marine vaquitas is expected to be around 30 individuals.
The drastic reduction of the species in such a short period of time has pushed for researchers to determine the causes of its decline. In the first place, the investigations point out the high mortality derived from incidental fishing. Secondly, the illegal commercial activities in relation with China and other Asian markets by the demand of the Totoaba fish that shares natural habitat with the Vaquita. Thus, illegal fishing activities affect the Totoaba fish existence (also in danger of extinction) and endanger the survival of the only endemic cetacean of Mexico.
Greenpeace has investigated recently the approximate price of the fish in the black markets of China and Hong Kong. It calculated one kilogram of Totoaba’s swim bladder rounds between 20 to 60 thousand dollars. And, despite the lack of scientific support, it is believed by the Chinese elites the organ of the fish has curative and aphrodisiac properties. The fish is also exchanged by elites to prove prosperous economic status and power in the society. A cultural practice that is continuously growing and threatens the existence of the Totoaba fish and the Vaquita.
Since 2012, the National Commission for Natural Protected Areas developed a program to guarantee the protection of both species in their natural habitat. The government assigned nearly 2 million dollars for the Program of Action for the Conservation of the Species (PACE-Vaquita), that aims to protect the endemic animals in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the efforts of the government have been reduced since the program was adopted and stopped in 2014. Because of this, environmental organizations like the Leonardo Dicaprio’s and Carlos Slim's foundations became part of a campaign to push the Mexican government to adopt more effective measures to protect the vaquita. Eventually, the Government of Peña Nieto after a meeting this year with both organizations declared "the tasks of the Government of the Republic have been joined by the state and municipal governments of the region, academics, national and international environmental organizations, as well as different fishing communities that inhabit the area" to protect the endangered species.
Nonetheless, the concerns of the actors involved in the protection of the cetacean continue in spite of the government's efforts, due to the growing demand for cultural consumption of Totoaba in Asian countries. That is, the efforts to protect the vaquita do not stop the demand for Totoaba fish by Chinese elites and it continues to threaten the extinction of vaquita. For this reason, the protective measures taken by the Mexican government must involve a sustainable model of economic fishing, which not only regulates hunting but also the consumption, through programs that support the protection and conservation of marine fauna, in addition to laws that effectively criminalize the incidental and illegal fishing of endangered species.
Latin American Post | Alessa Flores
Copy edited by Laura Rocha Rueda