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Mexico takes steps to save last 10 vaquita porpoises

Environmentalists say plan is insufficient to meet the crisis

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The federal government said it will use buoys to mark the protected watery home of the world’s most endangered marine mammal.

It’s a late bid to save the last remaining 10 or so vaquita marina porpoises.

But environmentalists said the government program lacked sufficient details and stressed that more urgent measures are needed to save the vaquita from extinction.

Mexico’s Environment Department promised to cut subsidies to fishermen whose illegal nets have killed off the vaquita population, while providing social programs and jobs for fishing communities in the upper Gulf of California, the only place in the world the vaquita lives, the Associated Press reports.

Tourism, fish farms and better fishing practices would be encouraged in the area under the plan.

Illegal net fishing for totoaba, a fish whose lucrative swim bladder is considered a delicacy in China, has created a crisis in the Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California as it is known in the United States.

The measures “are not up to the level of urgency that is required,” said Alejandro Olivera, the Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“With 10 vaquitas left, what is needed is total protection and the immediate elimination of illegal nets from the vaquita’s habitat,” Olivera said in an Associated Press story.

In a report issued earlier this month, an international commission of experts estimated only six to 22 vaquitas remain alive.

The lower figure was the number of vaquitas actually seen on the surface during a trip by researchers last fall. The higher estimate was the number of the animals that may have been heard through floating acoustic monitors.

The commission said the most likely number of remaining vaquitas was somewhere around 10.

Activists have said in the past that the few remaining vaquitas are concentrated in such a small area — a rectangle of about 15 miles by 7 miles — that some sort of floating barrier could potentially be built around them to keep illegal fishing boats out.

But the government program announced Thursday appears to fall far short of that. Instead it simply proposes marking the vaquita reserve — a larger area — with buoys, even though it is quite clear that poachers know very well where the reserve starts.

The plan proposes fish farms, “vaquita-safe” nets and sport-fishing for totoaba as potential sources of income for fishermen.

But fishermen can net thousands of dollars by selling a single large totoaba swim bladder on the black market.

Source: Associated Press

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