LOS ANGELES (August 3, 2005) -- An agreement signed last week in Puerto Peñasco on the Sea of Cortes of Mexico could save the world's smallest and most endangered porpoise from extinction. The deal brings together U.S. and Mexican conservation groups, local fishermen and San Diego-based Ocean Garden Products, the largest importer of Mexican shrimp, to protect the last 500 remaining California Gulf porpoises.

Listed as an endangered species, the small porpoise, also known as the vaquita marina, lives only in the northern Sea of Cortes, or Upper Gulf of California -- a unique area included in a UN World Heritage site this July. The mammals continue to be caught in shrimp and fishing nets, and if this trend continues, the porpoise will be the first marine mammal to go extinct as a result of human actions.

"By working together in this 'Blue Peace Initiative' we hope to save one of the world's rarest animals while assuring a strong, sustainable future for the fishing communities of the Upper Gulf of California," said Ari Hershowitz, director of NRDC's Latin American BioGems campaign.

Overcoming years of disagreement, the new accord includes measures to prevent porpoise drownings (e.g. monitoring and limits on gill net use), eliminate illegal fishing, and to increase the efficiency of the shrimp fishery by reducing the bycatch of other species. It was signed by NRDC and Ocean Garden, along with ProNatura, Mexico's largest environmental organization and fishermen from the communities of Puerto Peñasco, Santa Clara Gulf and San Felipe.

The negotiations were facilitated by Alejandro Robles, President of Sustainable Northwest (NOS), a cross-border association of environmentally-minded business leaders. As part of the agreement, the organization will invite Mexican government authorities and other leading conservation groups to Tijuana on August 22 to identify financial resources and additional measures to protect the vaquita in the upcoming shrimp season, which begins this fall.

The agreement comes five months after NRDC launched a "BioGem" campaign to protect the Upper Gulf of California. Each year, NRDC names 12 BioGems -- special natural areas throughout the Americas threatened by development -- and mobilizes citizen action to protect them. NRDC BioGem Defenders sent more than 36,000 messages to Ocean Garden since March. (For more information about NRDC's BioGem Initiative, visit www.savebiogems.org.)

Previous NRDC campaigns convinced Mitsubishi and the Mexican government to abandon plans to build a massive industrial salt plant on a lagoon in southern Baja California, Mexico that is a critical breeding area for the Pacific gray whale, and persuaded chefs to "give swordfish a break" until the species could recover from overfishing.