2022•10•07 Bonn, Germany
The vaquita is a species of porpoise on the brink of extinction with less than 10 individuals estimated to be left in the wild. It can only be found on the northern end of the Gulf of California.
Although not commercially targeted, the vaquita is collateral damage in an ongoing conflict between fishers, government and international illegal trade. The species is the victim in a long history of fisheries mismanagement and the poaching and illegal trade of another endangered fish known as the totoaba.
The fight for the survival of the vaquita is taking its toll on fishing communities, as the Mexican government is pressured to implement alternative fishing gear to aid in conservation efforts, which is predicted to put pressure on fishers’ livelihoods. Additionally, criminal organizations driven by totoaba poaching triggered territorial fights between cartels and violent clashes with conservationists and Mexican authorities, in which fishermen are caught in the middle.
Unwillingness to enforce conservation measures in the past has contributed to the current disaster.. As both a predator and prey species in marine food webs, species like the vaquita serve as important food sources for top predators and keep populations of smaller species such as fish, squid and crustaceans in check, promoting a healthy balance in the region’s interdependent ecosystem.
Many artisanal fishers in the Upper Gulf of California have limited flexibility, nor the capital, to look for alternative occupations. Therefore, they are trapped in a vicious cycle of inequality in which the fish stock is permanently overexploited and depleted, increasing fishing effort and driving fishers towards unsustainable practices to maintain their income levels.
Research recently concluded that there is enough genetic diversity in the small remaining population of vaquita to allow for recovery, but illegal fishing would need to end immediately. However, time is running out for the vaquita and conservation efforts need to be enforced immediately.