A Sad Reality for the Vaquita

July 21, 2021

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A pair of vaquitas

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am writing to share my disagreement with a decision in Mexico that will once again allow fishing in the habitat area of vaquita – a gravely endangered porpoise that needs protection from gillnet fishing.  Vaquita population numbers are already so low – this decision is a death sentence for the remaining population.
On April 22, 1992, 29 years ago, my father Jacques Cousteau, and I were in Mexico at the official precinct of then President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, to sign an agreement proposed plan of action and accepted by the Mexican government: The Plan for the Rescue and Sustainable Management of the Sea of Cortés. We were accompanied by two members of our organization, Dr. Richard Murphy, Ruben Arvizu, and several of our cameramen.  The plan was based on many of the studies we had conducted over the years in the Gulf of California, or Sea of Cortez. My father called this beautiful body of water "the aquarium of the world". In addition, Mexican experts knowledgeable about these fertile waters included their scientific studies. The main idea was to prevent the extinction of an extraordinary marine mammal: the vaquita, that graceful porpoise unique in the world and whose habitat is confined exclusively to the waters of the Sea of Cortez. The media in Mexico and abroad proclaimed the benefits of the plan, which sought to strengthen the lives of fishermen and the inhabitants of coastal towns by teaching them better fishing methods and eliminating the use of certain nets, which are deadly to the vaquita. The plan also proposed the development of ecotourism, something totally new at the time. Now, 29 years later, during the last 5 Mexican government administrations, there have been supposed attempts to save the vaquita. The sad reality is that they were only for mere public relations and self-promotion, to take advantage of the good intentions of international organizations and celebrities. The illegal fishing of another endangered species, the totoaba, a coveted fish in Asia for which tens of thousands of dollars are paid for each catch, continues without stop.  The involvement of drug cartels in totoaba trafficking to China has increased in recent years, unfortunately with the collusion of some authorities. When totoaba are caught, the vaquita are trapped in the nets and die from asphyxiation.  We know that many scientists have continued to make their best efforts to solve the problem of the extinction of the vaquita, it is a very complex problem: social, political and even of national security. 


A vaquita swims in the foreground with fishing boats in the distance

We know that on September 24, 2020, an Agreement was established by the Mexican Government through which the gear, systems, methods, techniques and schedules of fishing activities in the northern Gulf of California were regulated.  We considered that it could be an important advance in the solution of the fishing problem in that region and to eradicate the illegal capture and trafficking of totoaba.  This required the implementation of additional measures to make it effective in solving the multiple economic, biological, social and cultural challenges that characterize fishing in the Upper Gulf of California. But now, less than a year after these measures that could halt the extinction of the vaquita, the Mexican government is backtracking by putting an end to the fishing-free zone, allowing up to 65 fishing boats to access the area. This is a real contradiction that has drawn international condemnation and could cause serious economic damage to Mexico. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) can veto Mexico from international trade in species.
Vaquita need protection from fishing – not a decision to allow fishing in their habitat area.  I urge the Secretary of Fisheries (SEPESCA) and wildlife management agencies in Mexico to reconsider this decision.

Thank you,


Jean-Michel Cousteau
President, Ocean Futures Society
“Protect The Ocean And You Protect Yourself”

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