Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 27, 2023


Sarah Uhlemann, Center for Biological Diversity, (206) 327-2344,
Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute, (202) 446-2128,
Kari Birdseye, Natural Resources Defense Council, (415) 350-7562,
Kate O’Connell, Animal Welfare Institute, (860) 990-7858, (en español)
Paul Newman, Environmental Investigation Agency, +44 (0)20 7354 7983,

CITES Sanctions Mexico for Failing to Protect Vaquita Porpoises

Mexican Wildlife Leather Products, Pet Reptiles Banned From Trade

GENEVA— The Secretariat to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora today announced trade sanctions against Mexico for its failure to control illegal fishing and trade that endangers the vaquita porpoise. Mexico will no longer be able to commercially export millions of dollars of wildlife products to most nations around the globe.

Vaquita become entangled and drown in illegal nets set to catch shrimp and fish, including the endangered totoaba. CITES prohibits international commercial trade of both the vaquita and totoaba. Yet poaching and trafficking of totoaba — in demand in China for its swim bladder — has gone largely unchecked for years. Now only about 10 vaquita likely remain on Earth.

“The government of Mexico has only itself to blame for these long-overdue sanctions as multiple administrations have shamefully failed to protect the vaquita — the country’s only endemic cetacean species — from dying in illegal gillnets,” said DJ Schubert, wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute.

The CITES sanctions suspend all trade with Mexico on any wildlife and plant species listed under the international trade agreement, signed by 184 countries. There are nearly 3,150 Mexican animals and plants listed under CITES, and many of these species are exported. These include lucrative products such as crocodile leather, mahogany, tarantulas, pet reptiles, cacti and other plants.

“Mexico is rightly facing the consequences of its failure to control illegal fishing that is causing the vaquita’s extinction,” said Zak Smith, director of Global Biodiversity Conservation at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “For decades, the international community has been urging, imploring, and begging Mexico to meet its legal obligations. Broad sanctions are appropriate and should stay in place until Mexico demonstrates results.”

Parties to CITES have warned Mexico for years that it must increase enforcement and remove deadly fishing nets from the vaquita’s habitat. Although the Mexican government claims to be committed to vaquita conservation, a report last year by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Cetacean Specialist Group found that the country continued to allow illegal fishing in the vaquita’s habitat.

So in November 2022 CITES nations directed Mexico to prepare a compliance action plan that meets the CITES Secretariat’s approval or face sanctions. Mexico failed to meet this directive, resulting in today’s sanctions.

“While no one relishes economically painful sanctions, all other efforts to push Mexico to save the vaquita haven’t been enough,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The strongest measures possible are needed to wake up the Mexican government and prompt it to finally save this tiny porpoise from extinction.”

“This CITES decision throws a lifeline to the world’s most endangered marine mammal. Mexico urgently needs to implement a robust action plan with clear timeframes and corresponding milestones for action, and we urge consumer and transit countries to support Mexico by cracking down on the illegal trade in totoaba fish maws,” said Sarah Dolman, ocean campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency.

While some progress has been made, illegal fishing in the vaquita’s habitat continues, including in the Zero Tolerance Area, where only enforcement and research vessels are permitted. Earlier this month eight vessels were observed illegally fishing in the protected area, while 38 vessels were likely fishing illegally in the Vaquita Refuge surrounding it. With so few vaquita remaining, such illegal activities continue to push the animal toward extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Animal Welfare Institute ( is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere – in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses. Our undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants, pangolins and tigers, and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil; we work to safeguard global marine ecosystems by tackling plastic pollution, exposing illegal fishing and seeking an end to all whaling; and we address the threat of global warming by campaigning to curtail powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases and exposing related criminal trade. More information at

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