September 15, 2021

USMCA commission asks Mexico to respond to alleged lack of protection for endangered porpoise

Officials in Mexico have 60 days to respond to a petition alleging the country is failing to enforce environmental laws meant to protect the vaquita marina porpoise.

vaquita in water hero The vaquita is a critically endangered porpoise that lives in the northern part of the Sea of Cortez. It is considered the smallest and most endangered cetacean in the world.
Paula Olson/NOAA

A commission of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement is calling on Mexico to respond to allegations that it hasn’t adequately protected a critically endangered porpoise in the Sea of Cortez.

The vanishing vaquita

A small porpoise native to the Sea of Cortez is on the verge of extinction as a result of the rampant poaching of another fish. But many aren’t ready to give up on the species yet.See AZPM's 2020 feature report.

The USMCA’s Commission for Environmental Cooperation is giving Mexican officials 60 days to respond to a petition filed in August by conservation groups that alleges that the country is failing to enforce environmental laws meant to protect the vaquita marina porpoise — a small, cute mammal on the brink of extinction.

"It's the first step, and it's a very important one," said Alejandro Olivera, a senior scientist and Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that submitted the petition.

He said depending on Mexico’s response, the commission could decide to carry out a full investigation.

The USMCA requires all countries to enforce environmental laws. And if the commission determines that Mexico is not in compliance, the United States could request official enforcement action and implement trade sanctions against Mexico.

Scientists say with only an estimated 10 left, there is no time to waste in protecting the vaquita marina, which can get tangled in fishing nets and drown.

“By turning a blind eye to continued gillnet fishing in the vaquita’s habitat, Mexican officials are choosing to lose this species forever. Only strong international pressure can change Mexico’s mind and save these incredibly imperiled animals, Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, added in a press release.

She and others say Mexico must be held responsible for failing to take actions necessary to protect the vaquita from extinction.

In recent months, Mexico has made changes to its enforcement efforts in the vaquita's habitat. But conservation experts are concerned those changes will put the little mammal at even greater risk.

Fronteras Desk
Fronteras Desk is a KJZZ project covering important stories in an expanse stretching from Northern Arizona deep into northwestern Mexico.
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