For Immediate Release, August 11, 2021


Sarah Uhlemann, Center for Biological Diversity, (206) 327-2344,
Kari Birdseye, NRDC, (415) 350-7562,
Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute, (202) 446-2128,
Alejandro Olivera, Center for Biological Diversity, +52 612 104 0604, (en español)

USMCA Commission Urged to Investigate Mexico’s Failure to Protect Vaquita Porpoise

Conservation Groups Request Enforcement Action Against Mexico

Related Information:

Saving the vaquita

MONTREAL— Conservation groups petitioned the Commission on Environmental Cooperation today to investigate Mexico’s failure to enforce its fishing and trade laws. Mexico’s enforcement failures violate the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. If those enforcement failures continue, they’ll cause the vaquita porpoise to go extinct.

The groups also asked the United States Trade Representative’s Interagency Environment Committee for Monitoring and Enforcement to initiate enforcement actions against Mexico under the agreement for the violations.

Under the USCMA, the United States, Mexico and Canada committed that “no Party shall fail to effectively enforce its environmental laws.” The environmental commission was established under the agreement to address trilateral environmental concerns and promote the enforcement of environmental law.

The Mexican government has repeatedly failed to enforce its own fishing ban in the vaquita’s habitat in the Upper Gulf of California. In November 2020, observers documented more than 1,100 boats fishing illegally, and in July 2021, Mexico issued new rules that weakened its enforcement of illegal fishing in the vaquita’s core habitat.

“Mexican officials have promised again and again to get illegal gillnets out of the vaquita’s habitat, but they’ve utterly failed to do so,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The United States and the whole international community must finally put real pressure on Mexico to act. The Mexican government has a legal and moral obligation to save these little porpoises, and time for real action is running out.”

Only 10 vaquitas likely remain on Earth. Vaquitas become entangled and die in illegal fishing gear set to catch shrimp and finfish, including the critically endangered totoaba. The totoaba’s swim bladder is illegally traded on the international market for astronomical prices because of its purported medicinal properties.

“This is the most clear-cut case where the U.S. government must make use of the USMCA’s enforcement powers to rein in Mexico,” said DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute. “For decades, Mexico has broken a string of promises to save the vaquita. Since Mexico is apparently incapable of protecting this species and its habitat, the international community must intervene.”

Today’s petition asks the Commission on Environmental Cooperation to investigate and develop a formal “factual record” on Mexico’s failures. The groups also asked the U.S. Trade Representative’s environment committee, charged with monitoring compliance with the USMCA, to initiate “consultation” with Mexico. This is the first step in the USMCA’s formal enforcement process and could eventually result in trade sanctions under the trade pact.

“NAFTA and the USMCA have been a disaster for North American workers and the environment,” said Zak Smith, a senior attorney at NRDC. “The times of putting corporate profits before the interests of workers and the environment must end, especially in the context of the climate and biodiversity crises. The United States should use the tools it has under the USMCA to ensure Mexico meets its obligations under the agreement to enforce its laws and keep the vaquita from going extinct.”

Vaquita (Phocoena sinus). Please credit Paula Olson / NOAA. Image is available for media use.

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.