SAN FELIPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO - On December 31, 2015, Captain Oona Layolle of Sea Shepherd's research vessel R/V Martin Sheen met with representatives from the Mexican Navy, Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) and the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) to develop a joint plan to find and retrieve illegal fishing nets found in the protected vaquita porpoise refuge. As a result of the meeting, Sea Shepherd is now authorized to remove illegal fishing nets found in the refuge.
This meeting follows the Christmas Eve discovery by the crew of the R/V Martin Sheen of a dead humpback whale calf, entangled in a gillnet inside the vaquita's refuge. At that time, Sea Shepherd was not authorized to remove the gillnet.
Vaquita porpoises are found only in the northernmost part of Mexico's Gulf of California. Acoustic monitoring devices were used to determine that there are less than 97 living vaquita, making the vaquita one of the most endangered marine mammals. The dwindling population of this small porpoise is largely due to gillnet fishing; the use of these gillnets is driven by the illegal trade of totoaba bass, a fish killed for the sale of their swim bladders on the black market in China. Gillnets used to catch the totoaba also entangle the vaquita and they drown because they cannot reach the surface to breathe. As a result, both the totoaba bass and the vaquita porpoise are on the brink of extinction.
In April 2015, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced a two-year moratorium on gillnet fishing in the vaquita’s habitat. Since then, the Mexican Navy has arrested 40 poachers who were caught illegally fishing inside the vaquita's protected area. The Mexican government’s partnership with Sea Shepherd and Sea Shepherd's new authority to remove illegal fishing nets demonstrates the Mexican government's commitment to saving the vaquita.
"This expanded agreement and cooperation with the Mexican authorities demonstrates how crucial it is that gillnets are removed from the vaquita's refuge,” said Captain Layolle. “A vaquita could have easily befallen the same tragic death as the humpback whale calf. With less than 97 vaquita surviving, any death is devastating to their survival."
"We hope that our collaboration with the Mexican government will set an example for other governments," continued Captain Layolle. “The vaquita needs our vigilant efforts to survive. Sea Shepherd will not be deterred in protecting marine wildlife.”
Operation Milagro II is the second time Sea Shepherd has patrolled the Gulf of California to defend the vaquita porpoise. After patrolling the Gulf of California in March and April 2015, the R/V Martin Sheen began working with the Mexican Navy in November 2015, reporting on illegal fishing activities in the vaquita's protected area. This partnership has already resulted in the arrest of a trawling vessel in violation of the refuge boundaries. Sea Shepherd's new patrol vessel, the M/V Farley Mowat, will join the R/V Martin Sheen on January 16, 2016. The M/V Farley Mowat, a former United States Coast Guard patrol ship, will greatly increase the effectiveness of these patrols and is equipped retrieve illegal fishing nets.
Operation Milagro II
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