Illegal gillnetting remains a serious threat to vaquitas
Taylor, B.L., Barlow, J., Breese, D., Gerrodette, T., Henry, A., Hoefer, C., Jefferson, T., Mesnick, S.L., Olson, P., Payne, A., Pitman, R., Triana, F., V?zquez, E., ?, A, Weber, M., Yin, S.
Recently, claims have been made that a reduction in illegal gillnet fishing in the northern Gulf of California is allowing for a gradual recovery of vaquita, Mexico?s endemic, critically endangered porpoise. Earlier recommendations by the Vaquita Recovery Team (CIRVA?Comit? Internacional para la Recuperaci?n de la Vaquita) had stressed that vaquita could be saved from extinction only if gillnets were banned throughout its range and fishers had adopted viable vaquita-friendly fishing methods. In 2020, a 12 x 24 km area where the few remaining individuals were regularly found was designated a Zero Tolerance Area (ZTA), an area where the gillnet ban was to be strictly enforced. Recent observations, however, indicate that illegal fishing is still rampant within the ZTA: during the shrimp season in November 2021, 117 pangas were documented in the ZTA - the combined length of their nets could have spanned the 24-km length of the ZTA at least five times. On 19 January 2022, during totoaba season, 58 pangas were counted fishing inside the ZTA, at a time when a new accord between the Mexican Navy and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was supposed to have greatly reduced illegal fishing within the ZTA. If vaquitas are to be saved from extinction, at a minimum, the ban on gillnet fishing in the ZTA must be enforced, and current evidence indicates that this is not happening.