Update 7/21/16: Mexican authorities have adopted new rules making the gillnet ban permanent in the upper Gulf of California, and improving the ability for officials to enforce the ban. The changes—encouraged by advocates including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums—offer new hope for vaquitas’ recovery in the wild.
Pop quiz: What’s the world’s rarest marine mammal?
Answer: It’s a small, shy porpoise called the vaquita (va-KEE-tah). Vaquitas live only in a small part of the northern Gulf of California, bordering Baja California and the Mexican mainland. The dark markings around their mouths and eyes give them a unique look, and have led to their nickname, “panda of the sea.”
They’re also critically endangered. A May 2016 survey estimates fewer than 60 are left.
Populations of elephant seals and gray whales, which once faced extinction in this same region, have recovered thanks to transnational cooperation. There’s hope for vaquitas, too.
In observance of International Save the Vaquita Day, July 9, aquariums and zoos across the United States are raising their voices for strong and immediate conservation action on behalf of the vaquita. You can help when you join the Monterey Bay Aquarium and sign the petition to protect them from fishing practices that threaten their survival.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium commends the State of Louisiana for acting to improve the sustainability of its shrimp fishery and helping protect sea turtles. Newly enacted legislation enables state wildlife officials to enforce federal rules that require shrimp fishermen to outfit their otter trawl nets with escape hatches for sea turtles (known as Turtle Excluder Devices or TEDs). The new law officially ends a ban on state enforcement of this important ocean conservation measure – a ban that has been in place since 1987.
Sea turtles found in U.S. waters are considered endangered or threatened, and TEDs help prevent the animals from being accidentally caught and killed as bycatch in shrimp nets. Louisiana law previously prohibited enforcement of this critical measure, putting sea turtles at risk.
“Louisiana now joins all other Gulf fisheries – from the Carolinas to Texas – where use of Turtle Excluder Devices has been effective in reducing impacts on sea turtles,” said Margaret Spring, vice president of conservation and science for the Aquarium. “Conscientious shrimp fishermen in Louisiana who have been using TEDs will now be recognized and rewarded in the same manner as their peers in other states for contributing to sea turtle recovery.”
“We congratulate the State of Louisiana for supporting compliance with strong federal management policies that require TEDs,” she added.
Because of the state’s enforcement ban, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program had been unable to recommend Louisiana shrimp – even when fisherman voluntarily complied with federal regulations.
In light of the state’s action, Seafood Watch will immediately reevaluate its assessment of the Louisiana shrimp fishery. The new assessment is likely to result in all U.S. shrimp caught by otter trawl in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic being considered a “Good Alternative” option for seafood lovers.
Repeal of the TED enforcement ban was supported by Louisiana’s industry-led Shrimp Task Force, and was passed unanimously by both houses of the state legislature.