This Week in Whales Focus: The Call to Ban Mexican Seafood Products Gets Louder After Mexico Announces its Plan for Vaquita Extinction

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(Photo by NOAA)

At the end of February, Mexico announced a plan to keep the vaquita--a small porpoise species found only in the northernmost part of the Gulf of California--from going extinct. Unfortunately, Mexico's plan amounts to nothing more than a roadmap for vaquita extinction. Plagued by half-measures, a record of ineffectual enforcement, and a general failure to accept the seismic shift in approach necessary to save the species, Mexico's plan offers solace only for those wishing to shield themselves from change. Frustrated that Mexico and the United States are not taking the steps necessary to save the species, people are increasingly looking at banning or boycotting Mexican seafood products as the only way to produce necessary action in Mexico.

I've written about the plight of the vaquita and NRDC's hopes for a serious plan out of Mexico. Many in the conservation community were holding their collective breaths to see if Mexico was up to the challenge. With fewer than 100 individuals remaining and an 18.5 percent annual rate of decline driven by the vaquita's susceptibility to getting entangled and drowning in gillnets, any plan with hope of success had to guarantee a reversal in this trend. Otherwise, the vaquita will be extinct as early as 2018.

So what is Mexico's grand plan to save the vaquita? A two-year ban on gillnets, even though vaquita specialists say a permanent ban is necessary; a compensation scheme for fishermen that does little to spur a wholesale transition to vaquita-friendly fishing gear and fails to address the economic concerns of those fishing outside of permits; and enforcement of the 5,000-square-mile ban (an area around the size of Connecticut) by using eight boats and three drones throughout a region where illegal fishing is rampant and driven by demand in China for--yet another--part of an endangered species for "traditional" purposes.

This is not a recipe for success, which is why people are looking at pressuring the Mexican government and Mexican fisheries by hitting them where it hurts--money. Thus, attendees leaving the Seafood Expo North America in Boston when it closes tomorrow, March 17, may see the following ad on local transportation.

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The ad questions whether it's time to boycott Mexican shrimp. Some have already reached that conclusion, like Mark Spalding of The Ocean Foundation and Tim Ragen, former Executive Director of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission. These marine mammal specialists are calling for "a full embargo of all seafood products caught in all Mexican fisheries if all gillnets are not removed immediately from the vaquita's historic range." Mr. Spalding and Mr. Ragen rightly note that the U.S. government has the power today to deny Mexican fisheries access to the lucrative U.S. seafood market. So far, the government has failed to take that or similar action. Perhaps they were waiting to see what Mexico would propose. But now they must know that Mexico isn't serious about saving the vaquita. With that knowledge and the certainty that the vaquita will be the first whale, dolphin, or porpoise species to go extinct in North America in modern times, the administration must immediately take these kinds of drastic actions. If it doesn't, it will be just as culpable as Mexico for the vaquita's disappearance.

About the Authors

Zak Smith

Senior Attorney, Marine Mammals, Oceans Division, Nature Program

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