Court Orders Seafood Ban to Save Mexico’s Critically Endangered Vaquitas

While Mexico’s critically endangered vaquitas continue to slide closer to the brink of extinction, a court ruling just gave them a lifeline they desperately need.

The vaquita only exist in a small area in the Gulf of California, off the coast of Mexico. Despite past efforts to protect them and a growing interest in their survival, their numbers have continued to decline at an alarming rate.

Today, there are believed to be fewer than 30 individuals left in existence, with possibly as few as 15, and scientists estimate they could be gone entirely by 2021 if drastic action isn’t taken to protect them.

The biggest threat they now face is being killed as bycatch when they get entangled in gillnets that are used to catch shrimp and other fish. They’re also suffering as a result of illegal fishing targeting endangered totoaba for its swim bladder, which is used in Chinese medicine and is also considered a delicacy.

Last year, a coalition of organizations including the Animal Welfare InstituteCenter for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed an emergency petition seeking a ban on Mexican seafood caught in the vaquita’s range using gillnets, but never got a response.

Earlier this spring, they filed a lawsuit in federal court to get that ban, arguing that the Departments of Commerce, Treasury and Homeland Security are violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), specifically regarding how it relates to foreign fishing practices.

Under the MMPA, the government is required to ban seafood imports from fisheries that kill or injure marine mammals at a rate above U.S. standards, which Mexico is clearly exceeding, yet nothing has been done.

Now, they’re celebrating a win for the vaquita. In response to the lawsuit, the U.S. Court of International Trade has ordered the Trump administration to ban seafood imports from Mexico that are caught using gillnets in the Upper Gulf of California.

“A ban on gillnet-caught seafood from Mexico’s Gulf of California is the life line the vaquita desperately needs,” said Giulia Good Stefani, staff attorney with the NRDC, who argued the case before the Court. “Collectively, our organizations have spent over a decade working to save the vaquita—and never has extinction felt so close—but now, the world’s smallest and most endangered porpoise has what may be its very last chance.”

The ban covers shrimp, corvina, sierra and chano, and is expected to have a big impact. According to the coalition, last year alone more than 1,400 tons of fish and shrimp were imported into the U.S. with a value of about $16 million.

“With vaquitas on the brink of extinction, these economic sanctions are painful but necessary to push Mexican officials to finally protect these little porpoises,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “For 20 years, the Mexican government has promised to save the vaquita but failed to take meaningful action. That has to change or we’ll lose these animals forever.”

While there was some opposition to the ruling, it’s hoped the ruling will pressure Mexico to take quick and meaningful action to protect the vaquita by permanently banning gillnets in their habitat.

As Judge Gary Katzmann acknowledged in his ruling, “What cannot be disputed is that the vaquita’s plight is desperate, and that even one more bycatch death in the gill nets of fisheries in its range threatens the very existence of the species.”

Photo credit: NOAA/Omar Vidal, Proyecto Vaquita

62 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y3 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y3 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Marie W
Marie W4 months ago

Thanks.

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Margie FOURIE
Margie F10 months ago

Just stop illegal fishing. Easier said than done.

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Leanne K
Leanne K10 months ago

So its not a ban on gillnets in the area or fishing in the area. Sorry but maybe americans place too much importance on their buying power.
With 12 left a total ban on all fishing is needed. But to make sure there needs to be an exclusion zone that is protected by U.S and Mexican navies.
Damning that this species has been killed off to this level.
I hate fishermen

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Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx10 months ago

@ BRIAN F : GROWING LAB FISH IS THE SOLUTION YOU THINK. Well, i agree to a certain extent. But not in confined spaces as is now done with salmons and other species. I also suggested a temporary living / breeding in ocean parks, and only with the purpose of safe breeding, until the species is no longer at the brink of extinction. Than I would gladly agree. But keep them in bassins, NO. They will get lots of hormones to get big and ready for sale much quicker, and also the use of antibiotics would peak. How many times do we need to say that giving these animals a heap of antibiotics is devastating for humans..... Why do you think a lot of W. European Countries have banned the banned the import of meat, grown with antibiotics ?? I am sure that THIS is NOT the solution.

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Nicole Heindryckx
Nicole Heindryckx10 months ago

For over a decade, measures were taken and never has the decrease in the number of vaquita's been that bad. Even the U.S. imported more than ever before.. So what is the use of all the efforts taken when NOBODY cares. Not the exporting and not the importing countries. One must find stronger and harsher measures to have these bans been followed up and huge fines should be imposed. And why no more controls ?? Lack of personnel ?? B.S. t. Mexican & importing countries should have a total ban to export /import of ALL FISH from their country should be implemented. They certainly fish / export other fish species than the vaquita's. SO put their fishing industry lame. I don't understand that the U.S. "hate" the Mexicans that much, but even do allow the import of these endangered fish from their seas ?? Where is the logic, Fuehrer TRUPF ?? The money may be. Mammals of course or not easy to keep in captivity, but may be a kind of ocean parks could prevent these fishes to flee and guarantee part the reproducing population to breed in safety. I m not a marine biologist, but I think there must be a solution to save his animal. Come on, don't let these little sea mammals NOT DIE before our eyes. I could not explain that to my grandchildren !!

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner10 months ago

Just a US ban of seafood originating from Gulf is not going to work since corrupt officials will try to hide the origins of the seafood. They also sell the seafood to other countries. The Mexican government needs to implement a total ban on fishing in the Gulf and enforce it.

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