Only about 30 vaquita are left in Mexico’s northern Gulf of California and, if Mexico does not act quickly, experts believe the species will become extinct within three years. To save the vaquita, the organizations behind the boycott — including the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council — are urging Mexican officials to permanently ban all gillnet fishing, remove illegal nets from the water and increase enforcement efforts.
“Mexican fisheries agencies have known how to save the vaquita for years, but they’ve failed to take the necessary actions, protecting industry profits rather than this critically endangered species,” said Kate O’Connell, marine wildlife consultant at the Animal Welfare Institute. “By supporting the Mexican shrimp boycott, consumers and seafood companies can send a clear signal to these agencies that enough is enough, and a permanent gillnet ban must be immediately established and fully enforced.”
For decades, vaquitas have been killed by entanglement in gillnet fishing gear used in the Gulf to catch shrimp to supply the lucrative US market. More recently, gillnets have been used to illegally capture totoaba, a large fish whose swim bladder is in high demand in Asia. As a result, the vaquita population has rapidly collapsed.
In 2015, in an effort to stem the vaquita’s decline, Mexico established a two-year ban on gillnet use within the vaquita’s range. But enforcement has been dismal. Illegal fishing is widespread throughout vaquita habitat, including by shrimp vessels that continue to ply the waters of the Vaquita Refuge—a no fishing zone. This week alone, two adult vaquita and one baby were found dead, likely as a result of entanglement. Mexico’s current gillnet ban ends next month, and it is unclear whether the Mexican government will extend the ban.
“Vaquitas have run out of time,” said Zak Smith, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. “With just a handful of these unique, diminutive porpoises left, Mexico’s half-hearted baby steps are wiping the vaquita out. Mexico must be bold and ensure a 100 percent gillnet ban in the Gulf of California or it is going to be responsible for the extinction of this precious species.”
The campaign is launched three days before the opening in Boston of Seafood Expo North America, one of the world’s largest annual seafood industry trade shows. The organizations plan to promote the “Boycott Mexican Shrimp” campaign with a mobile billboard outside the Seafood Expo. The campaign’s website, www.BoycottMexicanShrimp.com, provides tools to help consumers identify Mexican shrimp products and contact companies known to purchase Mexican shrimp. A pledge button allows consumers to show their support for the campaign. The website also provides contact information for Mexican government officials.
“This is the vaquita’s very last chance,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “For decades, Mexican officials have failed the vaquita, and now only the strongest of actions will get their attention. To save these wonderful little porpoises, we have to boycott Mexican shrimp.”
Throughout the Seafood Expo, which runs March 19 through March 21, the mobile billboard will travel around the perimeter of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, to Boston’s Consulate General of Mexico and the local headquarters of Trader Joe’s, one of the biggest retailers of Mexican shrimp.