Vaquita – Last Chance for the Desert Porpoise

Vaquita Conservation Program 2012

For the sixth year, the government will offer compensation through an alternative livelihood, a conservation activities, and alternative fishing gear development programs.

Vaquita Conservation Program 2012
April 14th, 2012 by

The conservation program for vaquita for 2012 was published on March 29th. For the sixth consecutive year, the government will offer compensation through an alternative livelihood program (fishing permit buyout), a conservation activities program (permit rent out), and alternative fishing gear development (gear switch out programs).

There is no doubt that this is a great example of the government’s commitment to finding solutions to the environmental and conservation challenges the Upper Gulf of California faces. The participation seen from local community members is evidence that there is interest in finding ways through which they can improve their livelihoods and the employment opportunities available in the region.

The 2011 program did not have any participants in the Buyout category, and the fishing gear switch out only had participants from San Felipe, Baja California. In a buyout program, it is normal to see the # of participants to go down as time goes by, and so I can’t help but wonder if this year there will be any interest in this option. So many things have happened since last year, and the economic context and the fishing industry’s outlook are very different today. Should we be evaluating the strategy and adjust so we can meet the species needs, as well as the needs of those who live in the region?

The programs available for fishermen to choose from are:

  1. Alternative livelihood (buyout): Fishermen turn in a boat, fishing permits assigned to that specific boat, the motor and fishing gear associated to the permits.
  1. Alternative fishing gear development (switch out): Permanent substitution of gillnets with other fishing gear that does not pose a threat to vaquita. This option requires a valid fishing permit that is specific to the region and to a person; in case of a collective permit, then it needs to be specific to a boat.
  1. Conservation activities (rent out): Fishermen receive compensation for suspending all fishing activities inside the vaquita refuge during the entire year. Only boats with valid fishing permits, and who’s fishing area falls within 30 nautical miles from their home port are eligible for this option.
Maximum amount of $ (pesos)
Buyout: 1 boat, motor, 3 or more fishing permits and gillnets associated to permits


Buyout: 1 boat, motor, 2 fishing permits and gillnets associated to permits


Buyout: 1 boat, motor, 1 fishing permit and gillnets associated to permit


Fishing gear switch out for 1 permit


Conservation Activities



For more information and a complete description of the PACE-Vaquita 2012 and all its categories visit CONANP’s webpage at



About Catalina López

Catalina Lopéz Sagástegui has written 12 post in this blog.

A Scholar in Residence at UC MEXUS. She has worked with local fishermen implementing vaquita conservation programs in the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico.


17 Apr 2012 by piedad

gracias por mantenernos informados! sigue adelante Catalina!

21 Apr 2012 by News Update #38 « V-log

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2 May 2012 by James

I advise all of the local fishermen I talk to, not to entertain any conversations with individuals or orginizations that put the interests of any species ahead of the interests of humans. As an example, “Should we be evaluating the strategy and adjust so we can meet the species needs, as well as the needs of those who live in the region?”

4 May 2012 by Catalina

Hi James,
I agree with you in that a species should not be more important than the fishermen, however not talking about the issues or encouraging fishermen not to voice their concerns or their needs is not the answer. Ever since this buyout program has been implemented it has had minor adjustments that fail to address the changing needs of the communities. Fishermen are very involved in all this process and they have pushed for several innitiatives that aim at improving their livelihood. Any efforts that benefit them are in place because they have been involved and engaged in the process.
So in the spirit of being critical of all these efforts, we need to ask: (1) shouldn’t we evaluate the buyout program and its structure? and (2) shouldn’t we be making sure conservation programs include the social/human component?
There should be a balance between species and human needs, and we should be working towards achieving that balance.

10 May 2012 by Cathy Jo Baker

Thanks for the information and for your work on behalf of the vaquita AND the fishermen! Ojalá se pueda encontrar una solución para ambos que los permita vivir y dejar vivir. Saludos desde Indiana, USA.

31 May 2012 by JD

Just wondering — does this mean that all boats not participating in the buy-out and switch-out are doing the rent-out option? Or is this all entirely still optional?

1 Jun 2012 by Catalina

Hi JD,
The program is entirely optional for fishermen, however almost all of the boats participate in the rent-out if they decide not to go with the buy-out ir switch-out options. Only very few boats do not participate at all. This is because the government enforces the vaquita refuge regardless of whether fishermen decide to participate or not.

Hope this helps answering your question.

5 Jun 2012 by JD

Well that is encouraging news that the vaquita refuge is being enforced. I appreciate the fishermen’s sacrifice to save this animal very much.

25 Jun 2012 by Gary Robertson

Since the programs started have you notice an increase in Vaguita? I am associted with a group of engineers from UCLA who were discussing a reengeering of the fishing nets to protect the Vaguita. Has there been any work in this area

28 Jun 2012 by Catalina

Hello Gary,
According to CIRVA’s latest report (February 2012) it seems that the vaquita population may still be declining, and may even consist of less than 200 individuals. There are ongoing accoustic monitoring efforts and these are cosnidered a priority.
In terms of fishing nets, INAPESCA, CONANP, NMFS, WWF and other groups have been collaborating in designing and testing several types of light-weight trawls. So far, the Red Selectiva-INP has been successful in catching blue and brown shrimp. Because this is a trawling net, there are still other issues needed to be worked out in order to minimize any negative impacts the use of this gear represents (bycatch, sea floor damage).
You can find the complete CIRVA report at:
You can also try getting directly in touch with the researchers involved.

hope this information helps,

18 Mar 2013 by Linda

Having just returned from an adventure vacation in the Sea of Cortez, I enquired with varous local people who make their living from the tourist firshery and the tourist dive/kayak/snorkel business. All have described a marked change in the occurence of large species over the last 5 to 15 years. I am curious how manta, porpoise, shark, tortoise, whale shark and other species are affeted by the gillnet fishery. The local professionals also commented that the water temperature and increase in pollution from untreated sewage were likely contribtors to a decrease in large species. Preservation efforts benefit many more local individuals and businesses that local fishers. I would like to know if the Mexican Government is managing to take a wholistic approach to marine health in the Gulf of California. The Vaquita populations would hopefully benefit from general conservation efforts in addition ot he targeted gillnet fishery programs.

7 Jun 2013 by Bethany

Linda, I really appreciate your comment and would love to hear Catalina speak to any efforts to address the marine ecosystem as a whole. What is the over all health of this area? I’m sure the restricted water flows from the Colorado river, An issue that is very difficult to address due to the size and unwillingness to change, contribute greatly to a vastly altered ecosystem. But what about pollutants in the water? Could money be spent installing an infrastructure that would support improving water quality and decreasing the amount of garbage that contaminates this area? What kind of affects would this have on vaquita populations? Thanks for your time, passion, and hardwork Catalina.

7 Jun 2013 by Catalina López

Hello Linda and Bethany,
These are great questions! In short, yes the vaquita (and all other species) will benefit if conservation and management projects have an ecosystem approach. I am not familiar with any studies showing the degree of change in the marine ecosystem in the delta region since freshwater has decreased and then stopped.
There’s a study showing that vaquitas don’t seem to be significantly affected by changes in water flow from the Colorado River (no sign of emaciation). However, there’s publications showing that shrimp landings are directly related to freshwater flow. I guess we would need to analyze this species by species.
There are many studies addressing water pollution in the region, and plenty more that look into terrestrial pollution as well. Money should be spent in all three communities to address trash and water quality issues. Not only because it would benefit the ecosystems and the species living in them, but also because people should have a clean and safe community.
Hope this helps answer some of your questions. Try visiting this FB page, it’s a great project:

regards, catalina.

7 Apr 2014 by Phillipa

Hi Catalina,

I am currently writing a piece on the conservation of Vaquitas for my MSc Conservation Biology. I was hoping you would be able to tell me when the last acoustic surveys where done, and what the findings where? I am interested in trying to discern what the minimum viable population for the vaquita would be to act as a basis for my conservation recommendations.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

10 Apr 2014 by Catalina

Hello Phillipa,
The best source I have is this report presented by Dr. Armando Jaramillo at the 2013 IWC meeting:
Also, try “A combined visual and acoustic estimate of 2008 abundance, and change in abundance since 1997, for the vaquita, Phocoena sinus” by Tim Gerrodette etal (2011) available online DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2010.00438.x
You should be able to find other references in that paper. Good Luck!!


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