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Mexico to Make Effort to Protect its Rare Endemic Porpoise

Jun 14, 2013 04:31 PM EDT
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A vaquita caught in a gillnet
After a successful petition from the World Wildlife Federation, the government of Mexico will take steps to protect the vaquita – the only cetacean endemic to Mexico – by establishing new regulations on standards for the country’s shrimping operations, an industry which frequently and inadvertently kills the vaquita.
(Photo : WWF / National Geographic Stock/Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures )

After a successful petition from the World Wildlife Federation, the government of Mexico will take steps to protect the vaquita - the only cetacean endemic to Mexico - by establishing new regulations on standards for the country's shrimping operations, an industry which frequently and inadvertently kills the vaquita.

Of all the cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) the vaquita is the smallest, reaching a maximum length of 1.5 meters; the vaquita also has the smallest range of a cetacean, inhabiting the upper Gulf of California. With less than 200 vaquitas currently in the wild, the porpoise faces a high risk of extinction, according to the WWF.

More than 38,000 people from 127 countries signed a petition to Mexico's president Enrique Peña Nieto calling on him to make a policy that protects the vaquita from being killed by getting trapped in drift gillnets used to catch shrimp, rays, sharks and other fish swimming in the Gulf of California, the WWF reported.

Part of the new regulation, called an official norm, will call for operators of fisheries to use more sustainable practices that will lessen the occurrence of a vaquita from getting ensnared in fishery nets.

Omar Vidal, WWF-Mexico's Director General, said the new official norm will gradually limit the use of drift gillnets in artisanal shrimping operations, where vaquitas frequently are a casualty of such a business model.

The drift gillnets will "be gradually substituted, during a three year period, for selective fishing gears that [do] not kill this porpoise, but that allow fishers to keep earning their livelihoods," Vidal said in a statement.

"The effective application of the norm requires the participation and commitment of local fishermen. The optimal use of the net requires the development of particular skills; therefore, the support of the government and other organizations through training and temporary compensation programs will be essential along the fishers´ learning curve."

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