For Immediate Release, August 14, 2019
Paul Newman, Environmental Investigation Agency, +44 (0) 20 7354-7960, firstname.lastname@example.org
CITES’ Last Chance to Save Vaquita Porpoise
Fate of World’s Most Endangered Cetacean to Be Decided in Geneva
LONDON― As governments from around the world prepare to meet in Geneva for the 18th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a new report urges the imposition of trade suspensions against Mexico for its failure to protect the critically endangered vaquita from illegal fishing and trade in the totoaba, a large fish found in Mexico’s Gulf of California.
The vaquita, the world’s smallest and most endangered cetacean, is found only in Mexico’s northern Gulf of California. Scientists recently announced that as few as 10 vaquita porpoises are estimated to survive in the world ― a direct result of rampant and uncontrolled illegal fishing for totoaba, which is poached for its swim bladder, or maw.
Totoaba maws are trafficked by organized criminal syndicates from Mexico to China, where they are highly valued for their purported medicinal properties. Prices can exceed $20,000 per kilogram.
CITES’s Last Chance: Stop the illegal totoaba trade to save the vaquita details investigations by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency into the totoaba trade in Mexico and China and describes a persistent failure by Mexico to address the illegal fishing and trade, despite repeated commitments to do so.
One vaquita mortality has been documented so far in 2019, and the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) reported in March 2019 that “enforcement efforts have been completely ineffective in reducing the illegal totoaba fishery in the Upper Gulf of California.”
CIRVA has emphasised that the vaquita is not yet extinct and recovery remains a possibility, albeit slim. The animals are still producing offspring, and the remaining individuals are healthy, showing no signs of disease or malnutrition.
In 2016 parties to CITES adopted a series of decisions aimed at addressing the illegal fishing and trade of totoaba. These decisions have been only partially implemented at best and lack the force and urgency required in the face of imminent extinction of the vaquita.
“The apathetic response to the CITES decisions on the vaquita and totoaba is inexcusable in the face of the looming extinction of the vaquita,” said Clare Perry, EIA ocean campaigns leader. “This is the last chance for CITES to spur real action to save the vaquita — because unless the illegal fishing and illegal trade driving it are stopped, there will simply be no vaquita left in existence at the next Conference of the Parties in 2022. That will be on us, a major extinction on our watch at the hands of criminals, and CITES must take the strongest possible steps at this meeting to avert such an outcome.”
CITES parties are scheduled to discuss the crisis during a session Aug. 20, where, it is hoped, Mexico will be censured for its ongoing failures to stop the illegal fishing and trade in totoaba parts.
“For decades Mexico has failed the vaquita and the international community by making and breaking multiple commitments to protect the species and its habitat,” said DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute. “CITES parties must act decisively to ensure that Mexico follows through and saves this species before the vaquita is lost forever.”
“Even as vaquita porpoises teeter on the very edge of extinction, the Mexican government is still failing to protect them,” said Alejandro Olivera, a Center for Biological Diversity representative based in Mexico. “Mexico has made only empty promises to save these porpoises from deadly nets, without real enforcement on the water. The world is watching, and President Lopez Obrador has to stop all gillnet fishing and save the vaquita.”
“The extinction of the vaquita is entirely avoidable,” said Zak Smith, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s marine mammal protection project. “The international community must hold Mexico accountable for its current approach, which is guaranteeing vaquita extinction, and compel and support a new, vigorous plan for vaquita survival.”
Read and download CITES’s Last Chance at https://eia-international.org/wp-content/uploads/EIA-report-citess-last-chance-single-pages-for-print.pdf.
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