Mexico may reduce protection area for endangered vaquita

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MEXICO CITY (AP) – The Mexican government said on Saturday it plans to reduce the protection zone for the vaquita marina in the upper Gulf of California, an apparent admission that the little porpoise may never return throughout the historical range of its habitat.

The move would reduce the area where gillnets are prohibited to protect the world’s most endangered marine mammal and the smallest porpoise. Only 10 vaquita remain in the Gulf, also known as the Sea of ​​Cortez, the only place in the world where the elusive porpoise lives.

Mexico’s Department of the Environment said on Saturday that the decline in the number of vaquitas and the area where they have been seen in recent years justifies the reduction in the protection zone, which currently covers most of the upper gulf. The area begins around the Colorado River Delta and extends south past the fishing village of San Felipe and near Puerto Peñasco.

“The possibility is under consideration of modifying the zone of prohibition of gillnets,” the department said in a statement. “There have been enough technical studies to indicate a possible reduction in the area, depending on the recent distribution of the vaquita marina in the region.”

He said the change would be submitted for discussion to a group comprising fishermen, the public and the authorities, and said formal proposals could be presented until March 26.

The net ban has angered fishermen, who frequently set illegal nets to capture totoaba, another endangered species. Vaquitas are often caught in nets set for totoaba, whose swim bladder is considered a delicacy in China and costs thousands of dollars per kilogram.

Fishermen staged angry protests and attacked boats of the environmentalist group Sea Shepherd, which removes illegal nets in the smallest area where vaquitas have been sighted in recent years.

Alex Olivera, Mexico’s representative for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the reduction could affect the admittedly small vaquita population that still remains.

“Reducing the area also means cutting off the area available for the vaquita marina, and of course this species does not live in a coral, it lives in the marine environment, so that as soon as it leaves the area, it can cope with gillnets. , which are a threat, ”Olivera said.

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