Totoaba maws on sale in Guangzhou, China

With extinction looming, it’s CITES’s last chance to save the vaquita porpoise

Governments from around the world meet in Geneva this week for one of the most important dates in the conservation calendar – and perhaps the last chance to save the world’s most threatened marine mammal.

The 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) opens on 17 August and our Ocean campaigners have today released a new report urging trade suspensions against Mexico for its failure to protect the critically endangered vaquita porpoise from illegal fishing.

The vaquita, also the world’s smallest cetacean, is found only in Mexico’s northern Gulf of California and scientists recently announced that as few as 10 are estimated to survive in the world – a direct result of rampant and uncontrolled illegal fishing for totoaba, an endangered large fish poached for its swim bladder or maw.

Totoaba maws are trafficked by organised criminal syndicates from Mexico to China, where they are highly valued for their purported medicinal properties. Prices can exceed $20,000/kg.

The new report, CITES’s Last Chance: Stop the illegal totoaba trade to save the vaquita, details our undercover investigations into the totoaba trade in Mexico and China and lays bare a persistent failure by Mexico to address the illegal fishing and trade, despite making repeated commitments to do so.

Clare Perry, Ocean Campaigns Leader, said: “The apathetic response to the CITES decisions on the vaquita and totoaba is inexcusable in the face of the looming extinction of the vaquita.

“This is the last chance for CITES to spur real action to save the vaquita – because unless the illegal fishing and illegal trade driving it are stopped, there will simply be no vaquita left in existence at the next Conference of the Parties in 2022.

“That will be on us, a major extinction on our watch at the hands of criminals, and CITES must take the strongest possible steps at this meeting to avert such an outcome.”

CITES Parties are scheduled to discuss the crisis during a session on 20 August where, it is hoped, Mexico will be censured for its ongoing failures to stop the illegal fishing and trade in totoaba parts.