The vaquita, a tiny porpoise species found only the upper Gulf of California, is the world’s most endangered marine mammal.
It is estimated that fewer than 20 vaquita remain and its extinction is predicted by 2018 unless significant steps are taken to protect it.
The vaquita is not hunted in its own right – it is effectively suffering collateral damage as bycatch in illegal gillnets set for the totoaba fish, the dried swim bladders of which are highly sought-after in China.
Recently the plight of the vaquita has gained international attention. Mexico has implemented an emergency two-year ban on gillnet fishing throughout the vaquita’s range. US agencies in southern California, which is a hub for totoaba maws smuggled from neighbouring Mexico en route to China, have made a series of seizures and prosecutions. Yet enforcement efforts are still inadequate – EIA’s monitoring of the main markets in Hong Kong and southern China shows that totoaba fish maws are still widely available.
Only a complete end to the bycatch of vaquita will give it a chance for survival.
EIA works to expose the illegal totoaba trade while urging Mexico to significantly step up at-sea and shore-based enforcement efforts and to work with the USA and China to combat the organised criminal networks perpetuating the trade.