U.S. court upholds ban meant to protect vaquita

Fishing boats at the docks in San Felipe, Baja California. Photo: KJZZ
Fishing boats at the docks in San Felipe, Baja California. Photo: KJZZ

Rebuffing a Trump administration appeal, A U.S. federal judge upheld a ban on fish and shrimp caught with gillnets in the uppermost part of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

The ban was implemented last July by the U.S. Court of International Trade to protect the vaquita, a small, nearly extinct porpoise.

The vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal on the planet.

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Environmentalists hope to pressure Mexico to protect the last 10 or so vaquita.

“It is a desperate situation for the vaquita,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director and senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We believe that we need to put all the pressure possible on the Mexican government to get them to take action, to get them out on the water making sure that these dangerous nets are not being deployed.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, along with the Animal Welfare Institute and the Natural Defense Council, brought a lawsuit against the U.S. government in 2018 asking authorities to uphold the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Uhlemann said. It requires the U.S. only to import seafood caught using the same standards for marine mammal bycatch that U.S. fishermen are subject to.

A lower court made a preliminary injunction in July imposing a temporary ban until the case can be brought to court.

Uhlemann said the ban is necessary to prevent the vaquita from becoming extinct, and it ensures that U.S consumers aren’t buying shrimp and fish that endanger the porpoise.

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But local fishermen’s illegal nets are used to catch the lucrative totoaba fish when the vaquita are ensnared and killed.

“It won’t help the vaquita at all to put a ban in place,” said Lorenzo Garcia, president of the largest fishermen’s federation in the town of San Felipe, Baja California.

Instead, the seafood ban only hurts legal fishermen rather than addressing illegal totoaba poaching, he said.

Uhlemann said while it’s important to crack-down on totoaba poaching, all gillnets have to be kept out of the water to spare the vaquita.

Its full name, vaquita marina, means “little sea cow” in Spanish; a fitting moniker given the doll-like porpoise’s dark-lined eyes and inky, upturned lip.

Sources: Fronteras, Gizmodo

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