The U.S. Uses a Trade Pact to Press Mexico to Save the Vaquita Porpoise from Deadly Nets
By: April Carson
The Biden administration took a new stride last week aimed at getting Mexico to safeguard the few remaining vaquitas on earth after two decades of accelerating losses of the world's tiniest cetacean in a drowning maw of unlawful gill nets set in its final refuge. We hope officials in Mexico will join us in this new initiative to save the vaquita.
The US-Mexico Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) met in New Orleans September 12-14 at which time Mexico was given an onerous deadline of November 3 to remove illegal nets set by poachers near the Colorado River delta that are killing more than 5,000 vaquitas a year or face trade sanctions.
Vaquitas are the world's smallest porpoise and have been relentlessly driven to extinction largely because US consumers prefer seafood that has passed through Mexican fisheries where fishermen caught using gill nets just throw any dead vaquita they catch into the sea.
We can save these beautiful mammals if Mexico complies with our demand to remove the nets, according to the CEC report.
The commission was established by the North American Free Trade Agreement.
If China does not intervene, it is almost certainly game over for the world's most endangered marine mammal.
The situation is excruciatingly sad because the vaquita population, which may now be as low as seven individuals, is still viable. But until the nets are removed, reproduction will be unable to keep up with deaths.
A threat of sanctions
On Thursday, the Biden administration formally raised concerns that Mexico's fishery and conservation laws were being neglected, thereby leading to China-bound smuggling of the totoaba swim bladder. This fish species, which is also now endangered, shares the porpoises' cul-de-sac range in the Gulf of California's northern end. Within hours, Mexico accepted an invitation to talk about it.
The U.S. government used the first environmental enforcement provision of the 2020 trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada to justify its action. In making a request for "environmental consultations," the Office of the United States Trade Representative triggered a process that could lead to trade penalties against Mexico in a few months' time.
Mexico's seafood sector is already enduring hefty U.S. penalties for the country's failure to protect the vaquita and endangered sea turtles. But so far, none of it has made a difference in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's eyes.
It's critical. As I've previously written, Baja California fishing vessels seeking shrimp and the yet-to-be-extinct totoaba have blatantly continued to deploy dozens of deadly gill nets in the vaquita's last refuge, an "zero tolerance" no-fishing zone that Mexico has designated.
The deaths of hundreds of people on the beaches near San Andres were ignored by Navy patrols, as The New York Times and other publications recently revealed. "We're attempting to keep from having a conflict," said Rear Adm. José H. Orozco Tocaven, the Mexican navy's chief of public affairs, according to The Times.
Mexico's Ministry of the Economy stated in a statement after the United States' decision that it would collaborate with both governments' relevant authorities "to promptly submit the efforts and measures implemented to safeguard marine species in national waters."
Last August, four environmental groups filed a lengthy complaint with the USTR, claiming that Mexico was severely breaching the agreement's clauses by disregarding its own rules, arguing that it put domestic business at risk.
The Mexican government reportedly established a permanent ban on gillnets in vaquita habitat. A local fisherman, who stated that the ban has failed to stop gillnet fishing, added that "this isn't a trade problem," and that protecting threatened species was in both countries' interests.
"We hope we can find a solution with the US government," said one source close to the Mexican Fisheries Secretariat. "We hope the USTR will approve our petition."
The ministry's statement said it would begin an extensive effort to determine the levels of bycatch in fishing nets with acoustic alarms across Baja California Sur this year. It had previously enforced mandatory reporting requirements for all members of the fishing industry and gillnet owners.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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