Mexico's Gulf of California is one of the country's most productive marine regions in the Pacific Ocean, attracting fishermen with an abundance of commercial fish and shrimp. The Gulf is also home to more than 170 types of seabirds and nearly a third of the world's marine mammal species, including the Vaquita, the world's smallest porpoise. Confined to a small home range in the northernmost part of the Gulf, the Vaquita is threatened by the use of drift gillnets for shrimp and finfish fishing as they can become entangled in the nets and eventually drown. With current population estimates at fewer than 200 individuals, the Vaquita species is one of the most threatened marine mammal species in the world and fast action is needed to save it from extinction.
To learn more about the smallest porpoise, facing perhaps the biggest conservation challenge, please watch the video below, produced prior to the SOS Grant:
Since 2006, conservationists have worked with NGOs, governments and fishermen in the Upper Gulf of California to identify "Vaquita-friendly" fishing gear that does not harm the species. Alternative technologies have been identified. For shrimp fishing, new systems have been tested and are ready for roll-out. For finfish fishing, an alternative to current systems has been identified. The challenge now is to successfully deploy these new technologies to fishermen in the Upper Gulf. To become a sustainable solution, this must be done in tandem with the training and instruction needed to make their use economically viable, before the Vaquita disappears entirely.
Through this project, the project team and partners will work closely with a group of fifty fishermen to equip them with the skills and knowledge needed to use the new gear for shrimp fishing effectively. The team will also work with its partners to develop a large-scale plan for the complete phase-out of gillnets in the Upper Gulf of California.
The 50 fishermen participating in the project are expected to continue earning their livelihoods from fishing using "Vaquita-safe" fishing gear and techniques instead of drift gillnets.
A revised Environmental Impact Assessment will be presented by fishermen to Mexico's National Environmental Authorities which includes the use of alternative gear for shrimp and finfish as a way to mitigate the adverse impacts of fishing.
Thirdly, in coordination with governments, NGOs, and the fishing sector, a comprehensive transition plan for the phase-out of gillnets in favor of "Vaquita-friendly" fishing gear will be established.
As gillnets are the primary threat to the Vaquita, removing them from the Upper Gulf will give the species the time and ability it needs to recover, hence enabling the Vaquita population to stabilize.