Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 9, 2021


Sarah Uhlemann, Center for Biological Diversity, (206) 327-2344,
Daniela Arellano, NRDC, (424) 268-6677,
Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute, (202) 446-2128,
Alejandro Olivera, Center for Biological Diversity, +52 612 104 0604, (en español)
Clare Perry, Environmental Investigation Agency, +34 664348821,

USMCA Commission: Mexico Must Respond on Vaquita Enforcement Failures

MONTREAL— Mexico must respond to allegations that the government failed to enforce protections for critically endangered vaquita porpoises, according to a decision by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. The commission is an environmental review body under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

Only 10 vaquita remain on Earth. If Mexico does not step up its enforcement, scientists say, the porpoise's extinction is imminent.

“This is an important step toward holding the Mexican government accountable for failing to protect these little porpoises,” said Sarah Uhlemann, International program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “By turning a blind eye to continued gillnet fishing in the vaquita’s habitat, Mexican officials are choosing to lose this species forever. Only strong international pressure can change Mexico’s mind and save these incredibly imperiled animals.”

In August conservation groups petitioned the commission to investigate Mexico’s vaquita enforcement failures, citing continued illegal fishing by hundreds of boats within the animals’ remaining habitat. Vaquita become entangled and die in illegal fishing gear set to catch shrimp and totoaba, a giant fish in demand in China for its swim bladder. Under the USMCA, the United States, Mexico and Canada committed that “no Party shall fail to effectively enforce its environmental laws.”

“This is an important step in holding Mexico accountable for its failure to effectively enforce laws that protect the vaquita as required under the USMCA,” said Zak Smith, senior attorney and director of International Wildlife Conservation at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “To the maximum extent allowable under this trade deal, the United States, Canada and Mexico must hold each other accountable for protecting biodiversity. With only 10 vaquitas left, we need urgent action to save this porpoise. Otherwise, Mexico will be culpable of allowing the vaquita to disappear forever, partly because of the kind of trade allowed under the USMCA.”

In its decision, the commission found that the petition passed procedural hurdles. Mexico has 60 days to respond, and the commission will then decide whether a full factual investigation of the issue is warranted. Under U.S. law, if the commission finds that Mexico is not in compliance with its environmental obligations, the United States may request official enforcement action and ultimately trade sanctions against Mexico.

“Mexico’s decades of incompetence have pushed the vaquita to the precipice of extinction,” said DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist for the Animal Welfare Institute. “It must now answer to the commission for its failures, and respond with immediate, fundamental change in its enforcement efforts. The Mexican government must commit its full political will to saving this species rather than continuing to disguise its negligence with unsubstantiated claims and rhetoric.”

“Every possible step that can be taken must be taken to permanently eliminate gillnets from the habitat of the vaquita,” said Clare Perry, ocean and climate campaign leader at Environmental Investigation Agency. “This includes Mexico working closely with totoaba maw consuming countries and transit countries to crack down on the illegal totoaba trade which is pushing this species over the edge.”

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.

EIA is an international campaigning organization committed to investigating and exposing environmental crime and campaigning to protect endangered species and the natural world. EIA has worked to increase protections for whales, dolphins and porpoises for more than 30 years.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) 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 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.

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