Illegal fishing threatens survival of world’s rarest sea mammal

World Today

A struggle for survival off the coast of Mexico. The Vaquita, the world’s rarest marine mammal, is getting caught in fishing nets left by poachers, and without urgent action, they could go extinct. CGTN’s Franc Contreras reports.

A former U.S. Coast Guard cutter is now called the Farley Mowat, named after a Canadian environmentalist. It belongs to Sea Shepherd, a non-governmental conservation organization. Its mission is to pull illegal nets from the shallow waters in part of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, where they threaten the existence of the Vaquita Marina.

On board the Farley Mowat, the crew has pulled yet another poacher’s net from the Sea of Cortez. Fishing here is an illegal activity so this work by the crew is an essential part of their job.

The poachers are after a large sea bass known locally as the totoaba. They cut out the fish’s float bladder, a white-colored, increasingly-rare organ, which can sell for thousands of dollars at illegal markets in Mexico and China.. But the poachers may also accidentally net the Vaquita porpoise. The Farley Mowat’s Captain, Octavio Carranza says the Vaquita is now closer than ever to extinction.

“Right now, we are in a situation where there are from nine to 21 Vaquitas, so we are in a very crucial moment,” Farley Mowat’s captain, Octavio Carranza, said. “That is why we are here every single day. This is why we are pulling every single net we are seeing in our sonar.”

But local fishermen who are not poachers complain that the efforts to save the Vaquita are harming their ability to feed and educate their families.

“The most important thing is to try to figure out the solution of this problem, and I told him and explained quite clearly our job is to save the Vaquita from going extinct, but we are also Mexicans on board,” Carranza said.

But with so much illegal money at stake, violence is increasing. Poachers recently caught a totoaba and then tried to flee from law enforcement officials. That led to clashes last week with Mexican marines charged with protecting the Vaquitas and the activists pulling poacher’s nets from the sea. At least one person was seriously injured.

Marine biologists say unless drastic measures are taken to save the Vaquita, the world’s rarest marine mammal could become extinct in the coming months.