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Vaquita porpoise population has rapidly collapsed. (Photo: NOAA)

Conservation organisations intend to boycott Mexican shrimp to save vaquita porpoise

Click on the flag for more information about United States UNITED STATES
Friday, March 17, 2017, 23:30 (GMT + 9)

Conservation organizations have announced a boycott of all shrimp caught in Mexico to pressure Mexican officials to save the endangered vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, from imminent extinction.

The campaign was launched three days before the opening in Boston of Seafood Expo North America, one of the world’s largest annual seafood industry trade shows – and comes just days after the discovery of a dead vaquita calf, the Animal Welfare Institute reported.

Only about 30 individual vaquita are left in Mexico’s northern Gulf of California and, if Mexico does not act quickly, experts believe the vaquita will go extinct within three years. To save the vaquita, the organizations behind the boycott—including the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council, along with more than 45 conservation groups that have signed on—are urging Mexican officials to permanently ban all gillnet fishing, remove illegal nets from the water and increase enforcement efforts.

“Mexican fisheries agencies have known how to save the vaquita for years, but they’ve failed to take the necessary actions, protecting industry profits rather than this critically endangered species,” said Kate O’Connell, marine wildlife consultant at the Animal Welfare Institute. “By supporting the Mexican shrimp boycott, consumers and seafood companies can send a clear signal to these agencies that enough is enough, and a permanent gillnet ban must be immediately established and fully enforced.”

For decades, vaquitas have been killed by entanglement in gillnet fishing gear used in the Gulf to catch shrimp to supply the lucrative US market. More recently, gillnets have been used to illegally capture totoaba, a large fish whose swim bladder is in high demand in Asia. As a result, the vaquita population has rapidly collapsed.

In 2015, in an effort to stem the vaquita’s decline, Mexico established a two-year ban on gillnet use within the vaquita’s range. But enforcement has been dismal. Illegal fishing is widespread throughout vaquita habitat, including by shrimp vessels that continue to ply the waters of the Vaquita Refuge—a no fishing zone. Mexico’s current gillnet ban ends next month, and it is unclear whether the Mexican government will extend the ban.

"The lives of vaquita are in the hands of people who've known for years that their actions are driving this species to extinction,” said Zak Smith, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. “Now it's time for those complicit in the vaquita's demise —the Mexican government, shrimp fisheries and US seafood importers — to take bold action that ensures gillnets are pulled from the vaquita's waters. It’s the only path for saving this precious species. If they don’t, the vaquita’s extinction is on them.”

The organizations plan to promote the “Boycott Mexican Shrimp” campaign with a mobile billboard outside the Seafood Expo.

The campaign’s website, BoycottMexicanShrimp.com, provides tools to help consumers identify Mexican shrimp products and contact companies known to purchase Mexican shrimp. A pledge button allows consumers to show their support for the campaign. The website also provides contact information for Mexican government officials.

“This is the vaquita’s very last chance,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “For decades, Mexican officials have failed the vaquita, and now only the strongest of actions will get their attention. To save these wonderful little porpoises, we have to boycott Mexican shrimp.”

Throughout the Seafood Expo, which runs March 19 through March 21, the mobile billboard will travel around the perimeter of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, to Boston’s Consulate General of Mexico and the local headquarters of Trader Joe’s, a known retailer of Mexican shrimp.

Related article:

Gillnets to be banned to protect vaquita porpoise


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