The members of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), a group that has advised the Government of Mexico on the conservation of this species since 1997, welcome the opportunity to continue in your service. We have just concluded the eleventh
meeting of CIRVA, held at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California from February 19-21, 2019; a full report from the meeting is given below. Given the gravity of the current situation, we are writing to request you take immediate action to save the vaquita species from extinction.
As you know, the vaquita is on the edge of extinction and, unless action is taken now, the species will be lost within a few months or years during your administration. No more than 22 vaquitas remained alive during the summer of 2018, prior to the current fishing season. Each year, half of the remaining vaquitas are killed in illegal fishing nets set for another endangered species, the totoaba. Poachers prize totoaba for their swim bladders, which are dried and smuggled by organized crime cartels to China, where they are sold on the black market for prices that can reach $46,000 USD per kg. The acoustic monitoring program indicates that the few remaining vaquitas inhabit a very small area, approximately 24 x 12 km, most of which lies within the Vaquita Refuge. However, high levels of illegal fishing for totoaba occur in this area.
This precipitous population decline has continued despite the actions taken by the Government of Mexico. We emphasize that the only remaining hope for the vaquita is to eliminate all gillnet fishing in the area where the last few vaquitas remain. This is not an impossible task, as the area to be protected is not large. However, reports from the region suggest that the illegal fishery is growing, and there have been several recent episodes of violence by illegal fishermen directed at net removal vessels and their crews, legal fishermen, and even the Mexican Navy. These events illustrate the continued failure of enforcement efforts and the lack of respect for Mexican law by illegal fishermen.