Vaquita – Last Chance for the Desert Porpoise

Vaquita Recovery Plan

Fisheries Buyouts, Alternative Livelihood Programs – what are conservation groups doing to reverse the decline of the vaquita population?

Vaquita Recovery Plan

In 2007, the Mexican Federal Government began implementing a plan to save the vaquita (Programa de Acción para la Conservación de Especies 2008).

That plan includes four key components:

  1. Both the federal fisheries and environmental enforcement agencies (CONAPESCA and PROFEPA) have committed additional resources for the enforcement of current regulations to eliminate fi shing without a permit. Reducing the number of illegal fishers and closing access to the fi shery are the most cost-effective conservation measures to protect vaquita. However, this will be difficult to implement for political and logistical reasons. Illegal fishing has been historically tolerated
    in Mexico, particularly by poor, artisanal fishers using small boats.

    Political opposition is likely if poor families are economically hurt by this enforcement. Also, enforcing regulations on dispersed, small-scale fishing operations requires many enforcement officers and is expensive. In both 2007 and 2008, US$1 million was appropriated for increased fisheries enforcement in the northern gulf.

  2. The National Institute of Fisheries (INAPESCA) is instituting a program to test new fishing methods that can be used from pangas without a risk of catching vaquitas.

    Trials with suripera nets were begun in 2007. These nets have been used successfully to catch shrimp in narrow canals along the Pacific coast of Sinaloa. They typically have very low bycatch rates and, because of their small exposed surface, would be extremely unlikely to catch vaquitas.

  3. SEMARNAT is instituting a voluntary program to compensate fishermen who choose to
    give up their gillnet permits. This compensation would take the form of a buyout for fishers
    who are willing to stop fishing or a “switchout” for fishermen who are willing to switch
    to alternative, vaquita-safe fishing methods.

    Several options were considered for setting the price for permit buyouts (Curtis and Squires 2007): bilateral bargain between the government and fishing associations, an inverse auction where fishers would submit sealed bids with the price they would be willing to accept and the lowest prices would be accepted, and a government-set, fixed-price offer to buy.

    SEMARNAT chose the offer-to-buy approach, with offers slightly higher than the combined value of permits for shrimp and finfish for a total buyout (US$50,000) and less for a switchout (US$27,300).

    In 2008, US$17 million was appropriated for permit buyouts and switchouts,
    which retired the gillnet permits for approximately one-third of the legal fishers.

  4. All gillnet and trawl fishing would be banned in the Vaquita refuge. Rigorous enforcement
    of this ban by PROFEPA began at the start of the shrimp season in September 2008.

Currently, the government of Mexico is investing unprecedented resources to eliminate gillnetting and protect the vaquitas in the upper Gulf of California. The core area where vaquitas are most abundant is being protected. Despite this, illegal fishing continues, and two-thirds of the legal fishing effort continues within areas where vaquita are known to occur. A similar level of effort and resources will be needed in future years to ensure that the plan is fully implemented. The social and economic problems associated with the ban on illegal fishing still need to be addressed. Although the work is not finished, perhaps a way forward has been found.

Source, excerpt from:

    Barlow, J., L. Rojas-Bracho, C. Muñoz-Piña, and S. Mesnick. 2010. Conservation of the vaquita (Phocoena sinus) in the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. Chapter 15 in: R. Q. Grafton, R. Hilborn, D. Squires, M. Tait, and M. Williams (eds.) Handbook of Marine Fisheries Conservation and Management. Oxford University Press, New York. 770pp.