Featured Image Credit: Cristian Faezi / Omar Vidal
By Kira Krall
According to an acoustic survey done in the summer of 2016, there are only 30 vaquitas left in the Gulf of California in Mexico. That’s a 49% population decline from the previous year’s estimate, in spite of the emergency gill net ban enacted in 2015 to slow the gradual extinction of this species.
Totoaba, a type of fish, are a luxury item in Chinese markets. Local lore claims that the fish’s swim bladder can cure many ailments from arthritis to infertility. People pay dearly for the claimed benefits and a single totoaba swim bladder can garner $10,000. And gill nets are wildly successful at catching the large fish. These nets are also responsible for drowning dozens of vaquitas per year. Because of how deep the illegal totoaba fishery runs, local and global officials won’t be able to stop it any time soon.
The vaquita’s only hope now is a controversial plan to capture remaining wild vaquitas and begin a captive breeding program. All vaquitas born in captivity will be candidates for reintroduction into the wild. However, the plan’s success depends on control of the one fishery that caused the Vaquita’s rapid decline in the first place.
Capture of the small porpoises will be underway by the end of this year. The project unfortunately cannot begin until late 2017 because of the hectic (and legal) fishing season that will bring large volumes of vessels into the vaquita’s home range. Hopefully there will be some vaquitas left to rescue by the time that season is over.