CITES gets tough with Mexico to compel it to protect critically endangered vaquita porpoises

Following sustained calls from EIA and its campaign partners for Mexico to clamp down on the illegal totoaba fish trade which is driving the critically endangered vaquita porpoise to extinction, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has today announced it is taking action.

CITES has communicated to Parties a recommendation to suspend all commercial trade in specimens of CITES-listed species with Mexico.

EIA and our partners Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and Natural Resources Defense Council have been calling for Mexico to stop illegal totoaba trade to save the critically endangered vaquita since 2019.

Gillnets are the primary cause of vaquita mortality in the upper gulf of california, Mexico (c) Chris Johnson

The vaquita, a tiny porpoise species found only in the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico, is the world’s most endangered marine mammal, with fewer than 10 individuals remaining. The vaquita is not hunted in its own right – it is collateral damage, killed accidentally in the illegal gillnets set primarily for totoaba fish, the dried swim bladders, or maw, of which are highly sought-after in China.

EIA was at the 75th CITES Standing Committee in November, where it was agreed Mexico would prepare a compliance action plan by 28 February 2023.

This plan was to clearly outline the actions to be implemented and the steps the country will take to urgently progress implementation, in particular addressing the measures and activities to be put in place to effectively prevent illegal fishers and unauthorised vessels from entering the vaquita refuge and zero-tolerance areas and to thereafter maintain them as gillnet-free zones.

Dried totoaba maw on sale in China (c) EIA

The plan was to also outline the timeframe for implementation of each step and when it should be fully achieved and to further include milestones to enable assessment of satisfactory implementation.

Mexico submitted a compliance action plan, but this was not considered to be adequate by the CITES Secretariat as it lacked clear timeframes for implementation and achievement of the different steps in the plan and the corresponding milestones.

The Secretariat reaffirmed its continued readiness to work with Mexico on revision of the compliance action plan to ensure that an adequate plan could be put in place as swiftly as possible. The CITES recommendation will remain in effect until the Secretariat has assessed a revised compliance action plan as adequate.

EIA Ocean Campaigner Sarah Dolman said: “It is estimated that only about 10 individual vaquita remain – it is the most critically endangered cetacean on the planet.

“”But there is always hope and this action by CITES gives the vaquita a fighting chance for survival – if Mexico keeps gillnets out of the areas designated to protect them and if it and other countries involved in the trade of totoaba act to halt it immediately.”