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Courtesy of William Shepard and Unidos para la Conservación, A.C.

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Overview: 

The northern Gulf of California is home to the only endemic species of marine mammal in Mexican waters: the vaquita (Phocoena sinus). This porpoise species, which belongs to the family Phocoenidae, was unknown to science until the second half of the last century, when it was described by Norris and McFarland (1958) on the basis of bone material found on a beach near San Felipe, Baja California. It was not until the 1980s, when the first complete specimens were obtained, that the vaquita’s external morphology was described in detail (Brownell et al.1987).

Even after it had been formally described, little was known about this species due to its small size and elusive behavior (Silber 1988), and to the small amount of effort by scientists to study it prior to the 1990s. The vaquita occurs only in the northernmost part of the Gulf of California (Brownell 1986; Silber 1990a; Silber and Norris 1991; Vidal 1995; Gerrodette et al. 1995; Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 1999; Vidal et al. 1999; Rojas-Bracho et al. 2006). Studies of genetics have shown that the total population was small historically, and therefore the vaquita is a naturally rare species (Rojas-Bracho and Taylor 1999; Taylor and Rojas-Bracho 1999).

The risk posed to the vaquita by fishing activities was first recognized in the 1960s, specifically in relation to the large-mesh nets used to catch totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi, a large, endangered, corvina-like fish) (Brownell 1983; Vidal 1995). As the totoaba fishery declined due to over-exploitation, other gill net fisheries emerged in the region (e.g., for shrimp, chano [a small croaker], curvina [croaker], mackerels, sharks and rays) (Cudney-Bueno and Turk-Boyer 1998). As a result, vaquitas have continued to be killed accidentally in gill nets for approximately half a century (Vidal 1995; D’Agrosa et al. 1995; D’Agrosa et al. 2000).

In 1997, it was estimated that there were approximately 600 vaquitas (Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 1999). This small number, together with the known rate of vaquita by-catch (D’Agrosa et al. 2000), the known increase in fishing effort from 1993 to 2007, and the limited potential population growth rate for porpoises (Woodley and Read 1991), means that the total current population size is likely to be about 150 animals (Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 2007).

Experts worldwide are in agreement that the surest way to prevent the extinction of the vaquita is to eliminate the use of entangling nets in the areas where vaquitas occur. The immediate removal of such nets must be accompanied by one or more financial mechanisms to compensate the fishermen who can no longer pursue their livelihoods in the same way. This means that economic alternatives and vaquita-safe fishing methods must be developed and made available in the fishing communities of the northern Gulf. It is crucial for the CEC to support Mexico’s pursuit of these objectives. Without immediate, decisive action, the vaquita could become the second cetacean species to have been rendered extinct as a direct consequence of human activity in the present century, following the baiji, or Yangtze River dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer) into oblivion.

Description of the Species: 

The vaquita is the smallest cetacean in the world, with adult females reaching a length of 148.2 cm and adult males, 144 cm (Vidal et al. 1999). It is physically similar to the harbour porpoise (P. phocoena), but the vaquita’s flippers are proportionately longer and more concave (front side) and its dorsal fin is higher and less triangular than that of the harbour porpoise. The vaquita is robust and, in profile, the head appears as a truncated cone, with the back part of the forehead or “melon” slanting inwardly, toward the blowholes. The back is dark gray, the sides are light gray, and the ventral parts are white. The most conspicuous features are the black patches around the eyes and lips (Brownell et al. 1987).

For many years after the first description of the vaquita, there was uncertainty about the limits of its distribution (Norris and McFarland 1958; Norris and Prescott 1961; Villa-Ramirez 1976). However, the lack of physical evidence, such as beached animals, bone remains or photographs, from other areas, and the unconvincing quality of descriptions of observations in those areas, all point to the conclusion that the contemporary distribution of the vaquita is limited to the northern Gulf of California (Brownell 1986). This does not exclude the possibility of occasional occurrences of a few individuals outside the normal range (e.g., there are unconfirmed reports from as far south as Isla Cerralvo at 24º10’N, 109º55’W during a strong El Niño year; Silber 1990b), but such records are best regarded as extralimital (Vidal 1995; Vidal et al. 1999). In fact, shipboard surveys in the 1990s showed the main distribution of the species to be in a small area near Rocas Consag on the west side of the northern Gulf (Gerrodette et al. 1995; Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 1999), and acoustic surveys in the early 2000s confirmed that these porpoises remain mostly north of 30º45’N and west of 114º20’W (Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 2002, 2003, 2005). The “core area” consists of about 2235 km2 centered around Rocas Consag (Rojas-Bracho et al. 2006).

The sample used for the only published study of vaquita life history included no animals between three and six years of age, so the resulting age distribution was bimodal, with 62 percent of the animals between zero and two years of age, 31 percent between 11 and 16 years, and only a few between seven and ten years (Hohn et al. 1996). The only individual in the sample more than 16 years old was a 21-year-old female.

All animals under three years of age were sexually immature, and all those older than six years were sexually mature. Births were recorded between the end of February and the beginning of April, suggesting a seasonal reproductive cycle. Although the study sample was small, all available evidence indicates that females produce a calf every two years, unlike the harbour porpoise in the North Atlantic that produces offspring annually (Read 1990). The vaquita’s relatively low fecundity is another reason for concern about its ability as a species to withstand the mortality from entanglement in fishing nets.

What is known about the vaquita’s diet suggests that it consumes mainly small demersal and benthic fishes and squids (Pérez-Cortés et al. 1996; Findley et al. 1995; Vidal et al. 1999; Rojas-Bracho et al. 2006). There is no evidence of selectivity (21 different prey species have been identified in the stomachs of vaquitas killed in gill nets) and therefore the vaquita is considered a generalist predator.

There are no published studies of pathology in vaquitas. A number of vertebral abnormalities, as well as polydactyly and calcification of the corpora albicantia, have been reported (Ortega-Ortiz et al. 1993; Torre-Cosío 1995; Hohn et al. 1996).

Historical Information: 

There is no reliable information on historical abundance of the vaquita. However, genetic evidence (low variability) has been interpreted to indicate that the species has always been relatively rare (Taylor and Rojas-Bracho 1999; Munguía et al. 2003a, 2003b). Also, given its susceptibility to entangling nets, there is reason to believe that the vaquita population has been declining since the early 1940s when modern nylon gill nets were introduced in the northern Gulf (Rojas-Bracho et al. 2006).

The vaquita is extremely difficult to survey, even under the best environmental conditions (Silber et al. 1988; Silber and Norris 1991; Barlow et al. 1993; Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 1999). There are several reasons for this: the animals’ small size, inconspicuous surfacing behavior, and relatively long dive times make them hard to detect, especially in the turbid waters where they usually occur. Vaquitas also do not form large groups, the average group size being only about two. Finally, their swimming and surfacing patterns are irregular and they generally avoid moving boats (Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 1999).

Despite those difficulties, a number of surveys have been carried out, providing the basis for density (encounter rate) and population size estimates. Encounter rates from surveys during the 1980s and early 1990s ranged from 1.8 to 7.8 animals per 1,000 linear km (Barlow et al. 1993; Silber 1990b; Silber and Norris 1991) – low in comparison to the estimate of 25 animals per 1,000 km for harbour porpoises off central California (Forney et al. 1991). The best and most up-to-date estimate of total vaquita abundance comes from a survey in summer/fall 1997 designed specifically to obtain such an estimate. This survey was a cooperative effort between the US Southwest Fisheries Science Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (SWFSC-NOAA) and Mexico’s National Fisheries Institute (Instituto Nacional de Pesca—Inapesca). Three vessels (two oceanography/fishery ships and a smaller boat for shallow waters) sampled the entire known range of the vaquita population, and the resulting estimate was 567 (95 percent CI 177–1073) (Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 1999).

Recently, Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. (2007) used a simple discrete model to investigate how small the vaquita population could be today (2007). The model incorporated the 1997 abundance estimate, the best estimate of vaquita bycatch (in 1993-1994), and an estimate of number of boats presently fishing with entangling nets in areas where there is a risk of vaquita bycatch. Results indicated that there are likely to be only about 150 individual vaquitas left.

An independent (and empirical) line of evidence for a rapid and ongoing decline in vaquita abundance comes from acoustic surveys carried out over the last ten years (Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 2003, 2002, 2005). The rate of acoustic detection, measured in the area of greatest concentration of vaquita, has been declining at rates similar to those estimated by the demographic model. Given the extremely limited distribution of the population and the species’ tendency to live in small groups, the rate of acoustic detection is considered a reliable indicator of population density.

Current Status and Condition: 

The vaquita is believed to be the world’s most endangered small cetacean species (IWC in press; Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 2007). The World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) have classified the vaquita in the most critical categories of endangered species (Rojas-Bracho and Jaramillo-Legorreta 2002). Since 1996, the IUCN has considered the vaquita to be critically endangered (Rojas-Bracho et al. 2007). Both the Mexican Official Standard NOM-059 and the US Endangered Species Act also list the vaquita as in danger of extinction.

As noted earlier, a recently published analysis estimates that there are about 150 vaquitas left (Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 2007). The same analysis further suggests that within only two more years, the effective population size (reproductively mature component of the population) could decline to only about 50 adults, which some scientists argue is the minimal number needed to retain reproductive fitness. In other words, if the population is allowed to continue to decrease to fewer than 50 adults, the rate of decline could get worse if new and emerging risk factors affect the species (Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 2007).

Current Factors Causing Loss or Decline: 

Several authors have reviewed and assessed the known, likely, and potential threats to vaquitas (Brownell 1982; Barlow, 1986; Rojas-Bracho and Taylor 1999; Vidal et al. 1999; Rojas-Bracho et al. 2006, 2007), and further consideration has been given to this topic by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and by Mexico’s International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA). There is a strong, widespread scientific consensus that the primary and most immediate threat to the vaquita is mortality in entangling nets. This consensus has been expressed many times by various scientific groups and inter-governmental bodies, including the Society for Marine Mammalogy, European Cetacean Society, Latin American Society for Aquatic Mammals (Sociedad Latinoamericana de Mamíferos Acuáticos), Mexican Society for Marine Mammalogy (Sociedad Mexicana de Mastozoología Marina) and American Society of Mammalogists. These groups have sent letters to the two most recent Mexican presidents, urging them to take immediate, concrete conservation actions on behalf of the vaquita. Early in 2007, a letter was sent to President Felipe Calderón by the Director-General of IUCN, emphasizing that unless the nets are removed from the vaquita’s habitat, the species will be lost. Also in early 2007, the IWC passed a resolution expressing similar sentiments and calling on member governments to support the Mexican government in its efforts to implement mitigation measures immediately.

5.1 Incidental mortality from fishing activities

Entangling nets are used commonly throughout Mexico, not only in the northern Gulf of California. Their use is associated with bycatch of many organisms other than those targeted by a given fishery. Therefore, the bycatch in entangling nets often includes unwanted birds, reptiles, pinnipeds, fish, sharks, and rays, as well as cetaceans. The vaquita is vulnerable to entanglement in nets with a large range of mesh sizes, including those presently used in fishing for the following species in the northern Gulf: sharks (15 cm), chano and curvina (10-11 cm), mackerel and sierra (8.5 cm), and shrimp (~7 cm) (Vidal 1995). Vaquitas also occasionally may become entangled in trawl nets (Vidal 1995; D’Agrosa et al. 2000).

The only study specifically designed and carried out with the intention of quantifying vaquita mortality in fishing nets registered 11 vaquitas caught in 1,113 fishing trips. The estimated mortality rate, according to this study, was 39 vaquitas per year for one of the region’s three fishing communities in 1993-1995 (D’Agrosa et al. 2000). Total mortality could have been twice that amount, given that one other community in the region had a similar level of fishing activity. Unfortunately, the vaquita’s numbers are so low that any level of mortality caused by human activity represents a high risk, while being difficult to accurately quantify.

5.2 Insufficient flow from the Colorado River

It has been argued that the primary source of nutrients for the Upper Gulf of California is freshwater inflow from the Colorado River. This would mean, with the extensive upstream diversion of Colorado River water for agricultural and domestic uses, that a vital source of nutrients to the northern Gulf ecosystem has been essentially eliminated, drastically reducing the system’s productivity. Indeed, there is clear evidence that some benthic species, such as bivalve mollusks, have declined precipitously since the 1930s when major dams and irrigation projects began upriver from the delta (Kowalewski et al. 2000).

However, information available to date indicates that productivity in the Upper Gulf remains high. The system continues to exhibit high concentrations of nutrients, primary productivity rates, biomass values, and zooplankton volumes. Therefore, it does not appear that the diminished flow from the Colorado River has had a negative effect on the Gulf ecosystem’s ability to support a healthy population of vaquitas (Farfán and Álvarez-Borrego, 1992; Cupul-Magaña, 1994; Santamaria-del-Angel et al. 1994; Rojas-Bracho and Taylor 1999; Álvarez-Borrego 2003).

As non-selective predators, vaquitas feed on a wide variety of prey. The stomachs of vaquitas found in gill nets have been full, and the species identified in those stomachs are what one would expect based on the diets of other porpoises. To date, no bycaught porpoise has had signs of starvation or malnourishment, and female vaquitas with calves continue to be observed at sea, providing reassurance that reproduction is occurring normally.

In summary, we can conclude from the high concentration of nutrients, the high primary productivity rates, the high zooplankton biomass, the vaquita’s non-selective foraging behavior and its consumption of species commonly eaten by other porpoises, the absence of evidence of starvation or malnourishment, and the evidence of successful reproduction, that the critically imperiled status of the vaquita is not a result of the interrupted flow of the Colorado River.

5.3 Chemical contamination

Pollutants do not appear to be an immediate risk factor for the vaquita (Rojas-Bracho and Taylor 1999). Levels of chlorinated hydrocarbons measured in the northern Gulf are well below the limits tolerated for human consumption, as accepted by the US Food and Drug Administration. Levels of chlordane (a manufactured compound used as a pesticide in the United States between 1948 and 1988) also are below the limits proposed by the National Academy of Sciences. Levels of organochlorines (pesticides and PCBs) in the tissues of vaquitas are relatively low (Calambokidis 1988) and do not represent a threat to the species’ survival. This is also true of heavy metals (Pérez-Cortés 1996).

5.4 Inbreeding

Some reports of morphological abnormalities (Ortega-Ortiz 1993; Torre-Cosío 1995), together with the low amount of genetic variability in the vaquita’s mitochondrial DNA and the small size of its total population, have led to speculation as to whether the species might be severely impacted because of the effects of inbreeding (sometimes referred to as inbreeding depression). A modeling analysis that took account of the potential effects of inbreeding on demography and juvenile survival found no support for this hypothesis (Taylor and Rojas-Bracho 1999). In fact, a number of better-known species with little genetic variability have made strong recoveries from severe depletion. A prime example is the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris), which increased from fewer than 100 in 1890 to a total of 127,000 in 1991 (Hindell 2002). All of the genetic evidence (Taylor and Rojas-Bracho 1999; Munguía-Vega et al. 2007) points to the conclusion that, as a naturally rare species, the vaquita is not doomed to extinction due inbreeding depression , but is instead well adapted to the local conditions in which it lives.

Current Management and Action: 

Canada and the United States have populations of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) living along their Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Like the vaquita, the harbour porpoise is vulnerable to entanglement in fishing nets. Although the numbers of harbour porpoises in Canada and the United States are much higher than the number of vaquitas in Mexico, it can be instructive to consider the efforts made in those countries to deal with the problem of incidental mortality of porpoises in areas where intense fishing takes place. Additionally, expertise developed in addressing harbour porpoise bycatch could directly benefit the vaquita if applied through North American collaborative efforts.

6.1 Canada

In the early 1990s, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) listed the Northwest Atlantic population of harbour porpoises as Threatened in Canada, due primarily to the effects of incidental mortality in fishing gear. After reviews in 2003 and 2006, the population was reclassified to Special Concern. The main reason for the reclassification was the reduction in levels of incidental mortality consequent to tighter restrictions on fisheries for groundfish. The population on the Pacific coast of Canada has been listed as Special Concern since 2003. For porpoises off both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada, it is recognized that they are especially sensitive to human activities and in particular fishing with entangling nets. There is also evidence on both coasts that harbour porpoises can be excluded from prime habitat by noise disturbance (e.g., acoustic deterrents deployed at fish farms). The potential for effects of toxic chemical contamination are recognized but poorly understood. The threats facing this population of harbour porpoise are similar to those facing vaquita. Canada’s experience at dealing with such threats can be brought to bear for the vaquita via the CEC and implementation of this NACAP.

6.2 United States

The US Marine Mammal Protection Act defines the Potential Biological Removal (PBR) as the maximum number of animals that may be removed from a population each year. Populations that suffer human-caused mortality at rates above the calculated PBRs as “strategic populations,” and regulations require reducing bycatch to below PBR within one year of convening a “take reduction team” consisting of a variety of stakeholders and experts.

Six harbour porpoise populations have been identified on the western coast of the United States, with abundance levels varying between approximately 1,600 and 38,000 porpoises (US Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessments 2006). The smallest populations are distributed along the southern part of this coast. Most of these populations are at risk for getting caught in fishing nets; however, none of them is currently considered a strategic population.

In the case of the population in Morro Bay, California, a PBR of ten harbour porpoises per year is calculated. In recent years the mortality rate has surpassed 10 percent of the PBR, and fishing in waters with a depth of 60 fathoms or less has been prohibited since September 2002. It is hoped that with this measure, the mortality rates can be reduced to less than 10. The population in Monterey Bay, California, is in a similar situation. After an emergency closure of fisheries in central California, mortality rates below the PBR were obtained. As in the case of Morro Bay, fishing is prohibited in waters with a depth of 60 fathoms or less, and it is hoped that the mortality rate will drop significantly, since a considerable portion of the population’s distribution is in these waters. These are the only harbour porpoise populations on this coast with an abundance level of less than 2,000; the others have abundance levels of more than 8,000.

The San Francisco-Russian River, Northern California/Southern Oregon and Oregon/Washington populations all have mortality rates below 10 percent of the calculated PBR, and are therefore considered to be nearing a mortality rate of zero. For the Washington Inland Waters population, located the farthest to the north, a mortality rate of approximately 24 percent of its PBR was estimated in 1994, and consequently it is not considered to be progressing significantly toward zero. Challenges facing the United States in reducing the bycatch of harbour porpoise along the US West Coast will be difficult to overcome. Addressing the special needs of such restricted and vulnerable populations is additionally daunting. Similar issues face Mexico and the vaquita. US expertise in reducing harbour porpoise bycatch to biologically sustainable levels through stakeholder-driven processes can provide insights into how similar approaches might help the vaquita.

It is worth noting that if the US policy of calculating a PBR level were applied to the vaquita, the allowable vaquita bycatch would be less than one individual per year (D’Agrosa et al., 2000; Rojas-Bracho and Jaramillo, 2001). Unfortunately, the estimated annual mortality rate from bycatch is approximately 80 times this level, based on the bycatch and abundance data from the mid-1990s, making ongoing vaquita bycatch biologically unsustainable.

6.3 Mexico

6.3.1 Legal framework

Mexican legislation for the conservation of marine mammals and the protection of their habitats provides a solid framework for implementing actions aimed at saving the vaquita. The following list is a synthesis of this legislation, including the Mexican National Constitution and the corresponding Mexican Official Standards (NOMs):

  • The Mexican Constitution recognizes the need to preserve and conserve ecosystems and delegates the creation of specific laws to the National Congress, with participation at federal, state and municipal levels (Article 73, Section XXXIX-G).
  • Article 27, third paragraph, of the Constitution establishes that the Mexican State must take measures to preserve, restore and maintain the quality of the environment and ecological equilibrium. Based on this foundation, the General Act on Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection (Ley General del Equilibrio Ecológico y Protección al Ambiente—LGEEPA) was enacted and published in the Official Gazette of the Federation (Diario Oficial de la Federación—DOF) on 28 January 1988. Major and profound modifications to LGEEPA were made in 1996 (DOF, 13 December 1996) and more recently in July 2000 (DOF, 3 July 2000) with its bylaw on 30 November 2006.
  • Article 79, third section, of the LGEEPA, in the chapter on wildlife, establishes the criteria for conservation of species that are endemic, threatened, in danger of extinction and subject to special protection. Article 80 specifies the criteria for granting permits, concessions and licenses.
  • La Ley General de Vida Silvestre (Mexico’s General Wildlife Law), published on 3 July 2000, in the Official Gazette, establishes the provisions to list species under a specific risk category and regulates their sustainable use. Furthermore, it includes—under section VI—a chapter dedicated to the process for implementing refuge areas for the protection of marine species. Article 50 bis of the law was reviewed in 2002, introducing provisions that prohibit the extraction of marine mammals for subsistence or commercial purpose, while only allowing their capture for scientific research.
  • The Fisheries Law, fifth section of Article 3, grants environmental authorities the power to establish protection measures for marine mammals and other marine organisms. Intentional capture, disturbance or hunting of any marine mammal is categorized as an infraction, pursuant to Article 24 of this law. On 22 October 2007, the new Fisheries Law (Ley General de Pesca y Acuacultura Sustentable-LGPAS) came into force (DOF, 24 July 2007), which incorporates the concept of sustainable use of marine resources and provides a coordination framework between for environmental and fisheries authorities in establishing protection measures for marine mammals and other endangered species.
  • The first section of Article 420 of the Federal Penal Code imposes a sentence of between six months and six years of prison plus fines for anyone who captures or kills any marine mammal illegally, and for anyone who commercializes any product or by-product of a marine mammal without the necessary authorization.
  • Totoaba fishing is totally prohibited, and so is the use of totoaba fishing nets (with 12-inch stretched mesh or larger), in the order published on 9 August 1975 in the Official Gazette of the Federation.
  • The creation of the Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Delta Biosphere Reserve was enacted (Official Gazette of the Federation, 10 June 1993).
  • Mexican Official Standard NOM-012-PESC-1993 protects the vaquita and the totoaba in the Gulf of California. Mexican Official Standard NOM-059-ECOL, enacted in 1994, and recently reviewed, establishes a catalogue of species, subspecies and populations considered to be extinct, in danger of extinction, threatened, vulnerable or subject to special attention. The vaquita is listed as a species that is in danger of extinction.
  • On 8 September 2005, Semarnat established a vaquita refuge, consisting of an area in the shape of a polygon and containing approximately 80 percent of all the locations of confirmed vaquita sightings. On 29 December 2005, the Protection Program for vaquita within the refuge was published. Along with this decree, the Sonora and Baja California governments (the two states bordering the vaquita’s area of distribution) were awarded US$1 million to be used to compensate fishermen who were negatively affected by establishment of the refuge.

There is a comprehensive legal framework for the protection of species at risk, in particular regarding marine mammals; however, the large majority of the provisions have not been formulated with the goal of regulating incidental capture. Therefore, it is difficult to assess their effectiveness in protecting the vaquita.

6.3.2 International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA)

During the 48th annual meeting of the IWC in June 1996, Mexico presented a strategy for preventing the vaquita’s extinction. The main element was the creation of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA). The general mandate of the committee was to produce a plan for species recovery based on the best scientific information available. Distinguished researchers from Europe, Canada, the United States and Mexico were asked to participate on the committee. CIRVA was expected not only to develop a recovery plan, but also to consider the socioeconomic implications of proposed regulatory measures for local human communities.

The main conclusions of the first CIRVA meeting (January 1997) were the following:

  • The reduction in the Colorado River flow does not represent a risk for the vaquita in the short and medium term.
  • The long-term effects of this river flow reduction should be investigated.
  • In the immediate and short term, bycatch in fishing nets is the primary threat to the survival of the vaquita.
  • The total population size is likely in the hundreds, and probably in the low hundreds.
  • A more reliable and precise estimate of abundance is necessary as a baseline for recovery efforts.

Among the main topics discussed at the second CIRVA meeting (February 1999) was the new estimate of vaquita abundance, based on 1997 survey data (see above). The estimate of 567 (95 percent CI 177–1073) was consistent with expectation of the first CIRVA meeting that it would be in the hundreds. In light of the survey results and an analysis of the possible options for mitigation, CIRVA reiterated that the vaquita was critically endangered and stressed the need for immediate implementation of recovery measures. To this end, it recommended the following:

  • Reduce the incidental mortality of vaquitas in fishing nets to zero as soon as possible.
  • Extend the borders of the Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Delta Reserve to include the entire area of distribution for this species.
  • Prohibit the use of fishing nets in the expanded reserve, according to the following sequence: a. To be completed by 1 January 2000: Eliminate the use of large-mesh gill nets (6-inch stretched mesh or larger); limit the number of boats (pangas) to current levels; permit fishing in the area only by residents of the region. b. To be completed by 1 January 2001: Eliminate the use of medium-mesh gill nets (all except those used for shrimp fishing). c. To be completed by 1 January 2002: Eliminate all gillnetting and trawling in the vaquita’s area of distribution.

CIRVA also recommended:

  • Immediately and effectively inspect and monitor fishing in accordance with regulations. The development of effective inspection techniques should be given high priority, since all of CIRVA’s recommendations depend on effective enforcement.
  • Begin acoustic surveys for vaquitas, as an alternative method for studying abundance, distribution, movements and use of habitat.
  • Immediately begin the development of alternative fishing gear to replace gill nets.
  • Promote education and consultation processes in fishing communities, with participation by sociologists and biologists.
  • Promote programs for raising awareness and involving communities, through the dissemination of information and education regarding the Biosphere Reserve, the vaquita, and the importance of protecting this species as part of the natural heritage of Mexico, and of the world.
  • Take steps to mitigate the economic impacts of recovery measures.
  • Conduct research to define the vaquita’s critical habitat using data from the 1997 abundance survey.
  • Invite the international community and nongovernmental organizations to join the Government of Mexico and provide technical and financial assistance to implement the conservation measures described in this Recovery Plan and to support the continued conservation activities of the Biosphere Reserve.

The third CIRVA meeting (January 2004) concluded that conservation efforts to that time had been insufficient to stop the vaquita’s continuing slide towards extinction. In fact, the amount of fishing activity (number of nets and boats fishing in vaquita habitat) had approximately doubled from 1999 to 2004. Therefore, CIRVA recommended that the area of greatest vaquita concentration be designated as a refuge where the use of fishing nets would be prohibited. This measure was seen only as a way to “buy time” while other actions could be developed and implemented.

6.3.3 Nongovernmental participation

Interest in the vaquita has steadily increased over the years, at the local, national and international levels. An indicator of such growing interest is the creation of at least two organized groups with the specific goal of protecting the vaquita. These groups are:

1. The National Technical Consultative Subcommittee for the Protection, Conservation and Recovery of the Vaquita Marina (Phocoena sinus)

This social participation organization was formally constituted on 28 February 2002, by members of the scientific community, representatives of the civil society and other stakeholders whose mission was to develop a national strategy for the protection, conservation and recovery of the species, while promoting the joint participation of other sectors. The Subcommittee developed a project draft entitled Recovery Project (Proyecto de Recuperación (PREP)) which later served as the baseline for the Action Program for the Conservation of the Species: Vaquita (PACE Vaquita). Some of its members are also constituents of the group, Alto Golfo Sustentable.

2. Alto Golfo Sustentable

Alto Golfo Sustentable (AGS) was created in July 2005 with the goal of finding solutions to the complex multi-layered situation of the vaquita and to achieve sustainability in the fishing activities of the region. AGS is a multi-stakeholder group, which includes representatives of the industrial and artisanal fishing sectors, the principal shrimp marketing company in the region, as well as national and international NGOs devoted to biodiversity conservation. During its first meeting held in Puerto Peñasco, AGS members agreed upon the following main objectives: a) to eliminate incidental vaquita bycatch; b) to eliminate illegal fishing and c) to improve shrimp fishing practices. These objectives are equally dealt with by a number of multi-stakeholder working groups within AGS. AGS meets regularly to review advances in meeting their objectives and participated actively in the development of the vaquita refuge management plan published by the Mexican government in 2005. In 2006 AGS launched a community inspection and surveillance program during the shrimp fishing off season, with the prime objective of preventing illegal fishing, thus avoiding the incidental bycatch of the vaquita and simultaneously providing support to the local authorities. Because of its representativeness, AGS has been operating as a channel of communication between the various actors and sectors as they try to develop and implement vaquita recovery measures.

6.3.4 Recent actions

Mexico’s president recently announced the beginning of the Conservation Program for Species at Risk (Programa de Conservación de Especies en Riesgo—Procer), which is supposed to implement Species Conservation Action Programs (Programas de Acción para la Conservación de Especies—PACE) for a list of key species. The vaquita is among the five highest-priority species. The two main agencies of the federal government involved in vaquita conservation are Sagarpa, which coordinates fishery-related activities, and Semarnat, which has responsibility for environmental aspects. Cooperative work by the fishing communities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is also important to the overall effort.

Improved fishing gear

The Mexican government and CEC have sponsored experiments with suripera nets specifically for shrimp fishing. This type of net is used traditionally in Sinaloa’s coastal lagoons, and thus some adaptation is required to make them suit the environmental conditions in the northern Gulf of California. Initial results reported in November 2006 gave reason for some optimism concerning their potential for use in the Gulf. Two suripera nets were tested over a 9-day period: 12 8.5-hour hauls were completed and 17 kg of shrimp were caught (INP 2006). Experiments also have been conducted with shrimp traps; however, the results so far have not been promising (INP 2006; Walsh et al. 2004). Experiments with suripera nets are continuing, with support from fishing cooperatives in El Golfo de Santa Clara, San Felipe and Puerto Peñasco—the three main fishing communities in the northern Gulf of California.

Economic alternatives

With respect to economic alternatives, the Mexican government has granted approximately US$ 4.5 million thus far for developing productive conversion options in the region. Of that amount, US$1 million was invested in law enforcement and the rest in community support through Sustainable Regional Development Programs (Programas de Desarrollo Regional Sustentable—Proders).

Semarnat provided US$3.5 million (35 million pesos) in 2007 to help reduce the level of fishing with nets that entangle vaquitas. Funds were directed to provide economic alternatives to fishermen who agreed not to fish with gill nets or other entangling nets in the Upper Gulf. Sagarpa/Conapesca and Semarnat agreed that this would be a voluntary program. Although the program has achieved only a small reduction in fishing effort (68 of 740 finfish permits; only three shrimp permits, which represents less than 5 percent of all such permits (J. Campoy, pers. comm.), its aim was to raise awareness among fishermen of the need to change gear and eliminate bycatch of vaquitas. This program does not limit or restrict the government’s ability to implement regulatory and mandatory measures to protect vaquitas. However, the government considers that providing fishermen with alternative livelihoods and alternative fishing methods is the highest priority before enacting regulations that would mandate an end to fishing with entangling nets.

Proders provides a mechanism for implementing conservation policies within the National Commission for Protected Natural Areas (Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas—Conanp). Although the goal is to promote sustainable development in Protected Natural Areas (PNAs), the programs are not limited to such areas and can include poor regions and those with outstanding biodiversity (Proders regions). Only specified types of projects and activities can be supported through Proders, and timelines must be followed for carrying out planned actions. Once support is granted, the relevant resources are considered allocated and so there is no need to request the annual subsidy.

As mentioned earlier, there are two basic socioeconomic strategies for offsetting the negative effects of eliminating fishing with entangling nets in vaquita habitat. One is technological conversion (use of fishing gear that does not carry the risk of vaquita entanglement), and the other is productive conversion (providing fishermen with alternative livelihoods). At least initially, resources intended for technological or productive conversion projects can be administered through Proders, although the effectiveness of this approach in getting nets out of the water remains to be demonstrated.

Fishermen interested in participating in Proders present investment proposals in order to receive—in exchange for their fishing gear and licenses—funding that will allow them to develop a means of living that does not involve the use of entangling nets in areas where vaquitas would be at risk. While fishermen are implementing their productive projects, steps are to be taken to help them in receive training on how to develop business plans and assistance in the implementation of such plans.

A series of analyses were carried out to determine the amount that Proders could provide for each individual fisherman’s project. By filling out questionnaires provided by the National Institute of Ecology, fishermen in the three communities of the Upper Gulf indicated the amounts of money for which they were willing to settle in exchange for surrendering their gears or licenses. Also, they identified the productive projects with which they were associated, considering but not limited to the Proders scheme.

Semarnat formed a technical group to evaluate the productive projects and the amounts of money requested. This group selected the proposals after analyzing the questionnaires and taking into account the amount of money available in Proders. Sixty proposals were accepted out of 102 received. For the accepted proposals, a written agreement was drawn up between the fishermen and Semarnat specifying that the fishermen would renounce their fishing gears or licenses in exchange for the financial support provided by Proders. As part of the agreement, the fishermen must accept the penalties indicated for failure to comply (return of funds received).

All of the above provisions are to be accompanied by a monitoring program (Conapesca – Profepa – fishing communities) designed to guarantee that those who have signed a voluntary agreement to stop fishing or renounce the use of gill nets are, in fact, no longer fishing or using these nets.

Other aspects

The Mexican government has allocated tens of millions of pesos thus far for actions to help prevent the extinction of the vaquita. Therefore, other sources and mechanisms of financing are being sought. One mechanism is to use trust funds, with two different modalities: i) private trust fund handled through a sub-account in a banking institution that can be used to cover compensation awarded to fishermen in return for their commitment to stop fishing with entangling nets in vaquita habitat; and ii) a public trust fund. The two types of fund, as well as any other financing mechanism must work in concert, interactively and cooperatively, toward the same objective of ensuring that entangling nets are removed quickly from and remain out of vaquita habitat.

6.3.4 International context

The vaquita is not the only marine mammal affected by incidental catches in fishing nets. As a matter of fact bycatch is considered one of the main risk factors for many porpoise populations worldwide. They can be caught in many types of fisheries. However, gill net fisheries have the greatest catch rates and account for nearly all reported bycatch worldwide (Donovan and Bjørge 1995). Well-known examples of bycatch in different fisheries are those in the Bay of Fundy/Gulf of Maine, Central California, the Celtic Sea, and the Baltic Sea, among many others. Therefore, many countries have developed through the years plans to estimate and mitigate bycatch in their fisheries as well as to establish limits to incidental mortality (e.g., the United States, Canada, the European Union). The recent likely extinction of the baiji, or Chinese river dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer), which marks the first loss of a dolphin or porpoise species in modern history, has drawn wide-spread international attention over threats to coastal and riverine populations of marine mammals, particularly for vaquita.

This year, the Scientific Committee of the IWC concluded that more science is not needed for justifying the conservation of the vaquita. It strongly recommended that, instead, resources should be found to design and implement a comprehensive program for eliminating the capture of vaquitas throughout their range. In other words, it was acknowledged that the scientific diagnosis has been completed, and in order to prevent the vaquita’s extinction, the enforcement, social, economic and political aspects of the problem must be resolved. Also, the Society for Marine Mammalogy and IUCN have expressed similar conclusions in letters sent to the Mexican government in 2008 and 2007, respectively. It is hoped that any lessons learned in multi-disciplinary and multilateral approaches to vaquita conservation may be applied to other species in the future.

Other international expressions of concern are summarized above under item 5, Risk Factors (above).

Public and Commercial Perception and Attitude: 

There are two main sources of information on how the vaquita is perceived and on positions taken with regard to vaquita conservation by the public and the commercial sectors. First, over a period of approximately two years, Semarnat, in collaboration with other public agencies, implemented the Marine Ecological Planning Program for the Gulf of California (Programa de Ordenamiento Ecológico Marino del Golfo de California—POEMGC). Second, a survey was conducted by the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (Centro Intercultural para el Estudio de los Desiertos y los Océanos—CEDO) and a report was presented at the third CIRVA meeting. This latter survey focused on opinions in northern Gulf communities concerning how an ideal framework for conserving the vaquita might be created.

7.1 Citizens’ perspectives, as revealed by the POEMGC process

As part of the process that culminated with the POEMGC, five sector-based workshops were conducted. Each of these brought together sectors representing the principal marine activities in the region: aquaculture, industrial fishing, artisanal fishing, tourism and conservation. The results of each workshop were analyzed according to the following template:

  • a) Needs and interests
  • b) Capacities and offers
  • c) Environmental demands
  • d) Identification of negative interactions with other sectors

The opinions of each sector can be summarized as follows:

  • The fishing sector in general—including industrial fishing and artisanal fishing—was interested in continuing its activities and asked that all aspects of fishing be regulated, from the scientific study of fishery resources to the control and monitoring of fishing fleets. Special emphasis was placed on the need to address illegal fishing, preferably by offering alternatives to those involved. The fishing sector asked that fisheries authorities be involved in regulatory activity and that they carry out their work in a fair, non-politicized manner. It also asked that fishing activity be regionalized, that historic rights be recognized, and that fishing activity be treated as part of the production chain. The fishing sector expressed its willingness to be regulated, and its members agreed to diversify their activities if doing so was judged necessary to relieve the pressure on certain stocks or areas. The fishing sector also expressed a desire that appropriate compensation measures be taken, that prohibitions on fishing seasons and areas be respected, and that fishermen comply with production quotas. Both fishing sub-sectors acknowledged that there were conflicts between them because the areas for artisanal fishing overlap with the areas for commercial and industrial shrimp fishing. Those involved in artisanal fishing said that shrimp trawling damages the sea bottom. For the fishing sector in general, it was very important that inspection, monitoring, and surveillance schemes be effective.
  • The aquaculture sector asked that its activities be regulated through a zoning process that incorporates scientific information and takes into account regional needs and occupational preferences. This sector requested that its activities be guaranteed through sustainability principles, with impartial environmental impact studies that consider cumulative effects and comply with current standards of best practice. It urged that agendas and information be aligned at all three government levels (local, state, and federal) so that methods to evaluate goods and services in the Gulf of California are coherent and consistent. The sector acknowledged its existing conflicts with the artisanal fishing sector mainly because of contamination of coastal waters due to poor aquaculture practices. In addition, it acknowledged conflicts with the tourism sector resulting from the negative effects of aquaculture structures on the physical landscape.
  • The tourism sector requested that there be comprehensive marine and coastal regulations and it welcomed environmental impact studies. This sector urged that nautical tourism be recognized for its socio-economic value, well-designed wharves be installed to accommodate infrastructural needs, and areas in federal zones be allocated for tourism development. Tourism representatives expressed their view that environmental offenses should be regarded as serious crimes in Mexican legislation, and they emphasized the importance of protecting wildlife species on land and in the sea. This sector welcomed participation by, and input from, international organizations as part of a strategy to promote environmental culture through education. To this end, it requested assistance for the conversion of economic activities, with the aim of promoting nature-oriented tourism (“eco-tourism”) to increase environmental benefits for communities in the region. Tourism was viewed as an alternative vocation that could provide employment and at the same time promote conservation. The tourism sector acknowledged its conflicts with the fishing sector, which exploits marine species through direct removals, and with aquaculture, which generates pollution and alters the physical landscape. It also anticipated conflicts with the conservation sector because of excessive regulations that could slow or otherwise hinder tourism development.
  • The conservation sector includes NGOs and government agencies involved in the administration and management of natural resources. It was important to this sector that already-identified protected natural areas be managed as such. The sector also stressed the value of having information flow smoothly among the various sectors so that problems can be identified and solutions sought in a timely, efficient manner. Representatives from this sector expressed a vision for sustainable development that would consider the economic interests of all the sectors while developing solutions to the region’s problems. They expressed the belief that environmental policies should have measurable results and their effectiveness should be evaluated through indicators. Also, they stated that legal institutions and frameworks at the state and municipal levels should be strengthened so that regional regulatory programs can be implemented more effectively. The sector noted that environmental impact studies are required for development projects, and that they should include consideration of cumulative effects. Members of the conservation sector believe their strength lies in credibility, capacity for networking and disseminating information, ability to inform and advise the other sectors, experience in implementing conservation and environmental education projects, and record of attracting financial resources.

7.2 Citizens’ perspectives, as revealed by the CEDO survey

The survey focused on CIRVA’s recommendations, which included elimination of trawl fishing, gradual elimination of gillnetting, creation of a larger refuge for the vaquita, and addressing the impacts of those measures on human communities. CEDO conducted a series of workshops in 2001 to motivate coastal fishermen and the public to participate in the search for alternative livelihoods—in fishing or in other types of activity—with the goal of reducing incidental mortality of vaquitas. The emphasis of the workshops, held in Puerto Peñasco, El Golfo de Santa Clara and San Felipe, was information exchange. Fishermen were asked to express their opinions regarding the vaquita, its risk of extinction, its incidental capture in fishing nets, and their own willingness to participate in efforts aimed at the species’ recovery.

People from all three communities stated that they did not consider fishing to be a desirable activity for future generations, and expressed their interest in protecting the vaquita. When presented with the options of no longer fishing, continuing to fish in the same way, or fishing with different methods, the majority of participants from Puerto Peñasco responded that they would prefer to leave fishing for another kind of activity. In El Golfo de Santa Clara and San Felipe, the majority expressed their preference for continuing to fish, but with different methods, and people were especially positive when the possibility of incentives was mentioned.

The results of this survey show that fishermen are interested in becoming part of the process of developing solutions to the problem of the vaquita bycatch, and in general, they accept regulations and sound management of fisheries. It appears that fishermen are willing to participate in efforts to develop alternatives, whether these involve continuing to fish or transitioning to some other economic activity.

Regarding shrimp fishing with gill nets, fishermen noted the importance of finding ways to enhance the market value of their product(s). They proposed, as an example, using a slogan like “vaquita-safe,” with a seal or certificate for products that were obtained without risk of harm to vaquitas. Such a slogan could not be applied legitimately to gill net-caught shrimp, or to trawled shrimp that were caught in vaquita habitat, given that gill nets catch vaquitas and trawling causes serious habitat degradation (and also may disturb the foraging, reproductive and aggregating behavior of vaquitas). If suriperas prove to be an acceptable alternative to gill nets and are adopted by the fishermen, it is possible that suripera-caught shrimp would qualify as “vaquita-safe.”

The fishermen also said that assistance being considered for new projects involving fisheries, including the shrimp fishery, should be based on initiatives promoted by the community and the government, with participation of NGOs as a motivation. They said that tourism could be a source of viable alternative livelihoods. In the case of El Golfo de Santa Clara, where no other alternatives currently exist, it will be important to conduct a detailed study of fishing zones and fishery seasonality. Fishermen pointed out their interest in supporting research, as seen in San Felipe where fishing vessels carry observers on board.

7.3 Synthesis

Overall, both exercises suggested that the fishing sector is prepared to work toward a resolution of the vaquita problem. This receptivity is also apparent from the continued interest of fishermen in participating in, and attending meetings of, the Sustainable Upper Gulf Group (Alto Golfo Sustentable—AGS), a group composed of artisanal and industrial fishermen from the region, national and international NGOs, and the lead marketing firm in the region. Because of its representativeness, AGS has been operating as a channel of communication between federal and state government agencies and the various fishing and conservation sectors as they try to develop and implement vaquita recovery measures.

It is noteworthy that all sectors involved understand the problem and are willing to cooperate in the search for solutions. Nevertheless, they want any measures taken to result in benefits for the communities. Some groups appear prepared to change their economic activities, or to continue fishing with modified or alternative gear that will not pose a risk to the vaquita. There are, of course, some groups that are resistant to any measure and intend to continue fishing in the same way they have during recent years.

Project Overview: 

Preface

As mandated by the 1994 North American Agreement for Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) encourages Canada, Mexico and the United States to adopt a continental approach to the conservation of wild flora and fauna. In 2003, this mandate was strengthened as the three North American countries launched the Strategic Plan for North American Cooperation in the Conservation of Biodiversity. This Biodiversity Strategic Plan fosters an integrated continental perspective for conservation and sustainable use of biological resources. The North American Conservation Action Plan (NACAP) initiative is an effort promoted by Canada, Mexico, and the United States, through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), for marine and terrestrial species of common conservation concern. The main assumption supporting this initiative is the need and opportunity to enhance—through coordination—the effectiveness of conservation measures undertaken by diverse countries to conserve species of shared continental concern.

Building partnerships to conserve species of common conservation concern

The implementation of the Strategic Plan for North American Cooperation in the Conservation of Biodiversity identified an initial set of North American regions and species for which the benefits of cooperation could be more effective and better illustrated. Two regions, one marine and one terrestrial, stood out that spanned the three countries: the Baja California to Bering Sea region and the central grasslands. Similarly, the countries, through the CEC, agreed upon a set of marine and terrestrial species of common conservation concern for which North American Conservation Action Plans would be developed.

Priority species of common conservation concern in North America

Based upon the existing 16 marine and 17 terrestrial species of common conservation concern, the selection of the initial subset of marine and terrestrial species for which NACAPs would be developed was guided by the following criteria:

  • The species is highly threatened and requires cooperation through the CEC for conservation results to be achieved.
  • There is clear understanding of threats faced by the species and of the problem posed for its conservation.
  • There is a high chance of success within five years.
  • The species has a high profile and is charismatic, which will help build public support.
  • The species is found within a geographically focused area and is amenable to conservation in protected areas (throughout its range of distribution and sites of aggregation).
  • There is an existing champion for the species.
  • The species is already subject to significant joint efforts.
  • Threats to the species are found within North America.
  • The species subset should show taxonomic diversity and relevancy to Canada, Mexico and the United States.

NACAP: A trinational alliance for species of common Conservation concern

The goal of a NACAP is to facilitate a long-term cooperative agenda to conserve species of common conservation concern throughout their ranges of distribution in North America.

The NACAP expresses the joint trinational commitment to conserve particular species of concern to Canada, Mexico and the United States. The Action Plans reflect a long-term, cooperative agenda to jointly address concerns and to tap into opportunities associated with the conservation of the selected species. Furthermore, the Parties work cooperatively by building upon international environmental agreements and existing policies and laws and by bringing a regional perspective to international initiatives. Each Action Plan will be unique and reflect the differentiated responsibilities of each of the countries, consistent with their respective institutional, ecological and socio-economic contexts.

Through each NACAP, the CEC provides a valuable planning tool to help focus limited resources and ensure that cooperative actions taken for the conservation of species of common conservation concern are based upon sound science, and are targeted at priority actions. The implementation of these actions, however, is incumbent on the diverse players of each country.

The expected users of a NACAP are principally those organizations and individuals engaged in the conservation of shared North American species, including governments at the various federal, state/provincial, local and indigenous, tribal/first nations levels, as well as grant-makers and civil society.

NACAP principles

  • Recognize jurisdictional responsibilities, including federal, state, provincial, and indigenous and local communities’ mandates within each country for the conservation of biodiversity.
  • Identify the main implementation groups and main audience (e.g., natural resource managers, educators, environmentalists, local governments, NGOs, community leaders, etc.).
  • Base decisions on scientific and relevant traditional knowledge.
  • Promote and facilitate participation and partnerships among governmental, nongovernmental, and private sector organizations; individuals; and local communities.
  • Be accountable, transparent and respectful of local traditions.
  • Cooperate at all geographical scales, from local to international.
  • Measure success.
  • Understand and recognize social and cultural values pertaining to the selected species.
  • Consider, support and build upon existing treaties, mechanisms, strategies and fora such as North American Bird Conservation Initiative, and the Canada/Mexico/United States Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management.
  • Promote a conservation ethos and support public education and information efforts.
  • Build capacity to strengthen public agencies, private organizations, landowners and individuals at various geographic levels of conservation actions.
  • Promote sustainable practices.
  • Be innovative, adaptable and promote a quick response to address emergency situations.
  • Adopt multi-species approach when possible (be synergetic).
  • Encourage preventive conservation efforts (to avoid the necessity of including more species on endangered species lists).
  • Cooperate and share information with other countries/regions.

NACAP framework

The following conservation-related elements shall be integrated into the structure of each NACAP:

  • Threats prevention, control and mitigation
  • Education and outreach
  • Information sharing and networking
  • Capacity building and training
  • Research gaps
  • Use of innovative approaches and tools

The Vaquita North American Conservation Action Plan

This NACAP, developed for the vaquita (Phocoena sinus), resulted from the advice provided by the Biodiversity Conservation Working Group to the CEC Council, which instructed its Secretariat on 27 June 2007, to initiate collaborative actions to recover the vaquita and promote sustainable local livelihoods. Although the vaquita is found only in Mexican waters, it had been identified by Canada, Mexico and the United States as a species of common conservation concern in North America. As a result, the CEC hosted a trinational workshop in Ensenada, Baja California, in October 2007, and obtained input from an extensive list of experts from diverse backgrounds from Canada, Mexico and the United States. Furthermore, the content of this NACAP has been cleared for publication by an inter-governmental review process established by the CEC Council to ensure the quality of the Plan.

The Vaquita North American Conservation Action Plan is intended to provide a trinational outlook on the species. It gives an updated account of the species and its current situation, identifies the main risk factors causing the species to suffer an unsustainable level of mortality, and summarizes the current management and actions taken in each country, as well as public and commercial perception of the species and the threats it faces. Against this background, it then offers a list of key trinational collaborative conservation actions, priorities and targets to be considered for adoption by the three countries. The actions identified address the following main objectives: 1. threats prevention, control and mitigation; 2. use of innovative approaches to developing sustainable livelihoods in the communities; 3. research, monitoring and evaluation on the state of the vaquita population; and 4. increasing awareness of the vaquita, its plight, and importance within its ecosystem.

We hope that the NACAPs will constitute an effective basis for cooperation among diverse sectors of society working on the well being of these species and their habitats across North America.

Hans Herrmann

Biodiversity Conservation

Commission for Environmental Cooperation