In the Gulf of California a battle is fought to save the vaquita from extinction.
In less than a month, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s vessel has been attacked – with gunshots and Molotov cocktails – by illegal fishermen who deploy nets to fish for Totoaba in the refuge area for the protection of what is considered the most threatened marine mammal in the world.
For six years, members of the Sea Shepherd organization, in coordination with Mexican authorities, have been traveling the waters of the Gulf of California to identify and extract the nets that are used in the illegal fishing of totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi), and in which, vaquitas or sea cows (Phocoena sinus), get entangled and trapped.
So far in 2020, Sea Shepherd has reported two direct attacks. The first was registered on the morning of February 8, when illegal fishermen, aboard four boats, came out of nowhere, and shot at the organization’s boat in open seas. In fact, inspectors from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (Profepa), as well as officers of the federal police and the Secretary of the Navy were present and witnessed the attack.
The second attack took place precisely on World Wildlife Day, which is commemorated on March 3. Sea Shepherd’s boat, on routine monitoring of the Upper Gulf of California, encountered two small boats whose crew were trying to pull out a fishing net.
When the Sea Shepherd was getting closer, around 25 fishing boats suddenly appeard at the place. Illegal fishermen threw rocks, and other objects at the conservation organization’s ship , including a Molotov cocktail.
But this is not the first time that the Sea Shepherd has been attacked. In January 2019, the vessel was attacked by the crew of around 50 speedboats, who threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at them.
In 2015, the Mexican government created the shelter for the protection of the vaquita marina in the central northern part of the Gulf of California and the use of fishing nets was prohibited in that area.
This ban affected local fishermen, who were supposed to receive financial compensation from the Mexican government, but these payments were suspended as of 2019.
There is also the problem of illegal fishing for Totoaba, a fish endemic to the Gulf of California, which is also in danger of extinction. In fact, its fishing has been prohibited since 1975. Even so, this species is captured to commercialize its dry swimming bladder, for its supposed medicinal value.
A kilo of dried totoaba swim bladder can fetch up to $ 46,000 USD in the Chinese market, according to data from the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita Marina: CIRVA).
To catch the totoaba, illegal fishermen place nets in which other species are also trapped, including the vaquita, a cetacean endemic to the Gulf of California that is no more than 1.5 meters long and that reproduces after six years of age.
The Mazatlan Post