Without surveillance, illegal fishing of totoaba is on the rise

Sea Shepherd activists reported nearly 80 small fishing boats with nets full of totoaba in the port of San Felipe, Baja California

Without surveillance, illegal fishing of totoaba is on the rise
Fishermen pull up a bag with fish at the Gulf of California – Photo: Guillermo Arias/AFP
English 11/12/2019 19:42 Newsroom Mexico City Actualizada 19:55
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Last weekend, hundreds of fishermen on board of dozens of vessels sailed in the Gulf of California to illegally fish totoaba, according to the ecologist organization Sea Shepherd that works in the protection of the vaquita.

On Monday, the activists reported that they witnessed on Sunday nearly 80 small fishing boats pulling in nets full of totoaba in the port of San Felipe, Baja California.

They denounced that those same nets can capture vaquitas, another species in danger of extinction and of which only 10 specimens remain in the Gulf of California, the only place where they live.

Totoaba is present in a higher number but it is also protected because its bladder is considered a delicacy in China for which people pay exorbitant prices.

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Sea Shepherd activists said that the massive fishing witnessed on Sunday used a new strategy: several boats surround and trap the totoabas to make sure they cannot escape.

They said the high number of fishermen exceeded the few staff of the Navy that was in the area. The Mexican government has forbidden the use of fishing nets in the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortés, but budget cuts have caused authorities to suspend compensation payments to fishermen.

In October, environmental supervisors detected 35 minor vessels incurring in the illegal fishing in waters of the Vaquita’s Protection Polygon in the High Gulf of California.

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The issue could worsen
On December 5, EL UNIVERSAL published that over 11,000 km of coast would be left without supervision in 2020 because the resources for the surveillance program of the National Fishing Commission were cut in the Expenditures Budget.

Anselmo Villalobos, a member of the National Committee of the Confederation of Fishing Cooperatives in Mexico and Commissioner of Fishing Ports in the Pacific, warned that the deep-sea fishing industry will face an uncertain fate.

In addition, he pointed out that out of the MXN$1.2 billion Conapesca will have in 2020, nearly MXN $800 million will be applied to wages, the gasoline of the directors, and stationery. “There will not be a single peso for sector programs next year,” he said.

According to the 2020 budget, sector programs like supervision and surveillance against illegal fishing will not have resources. “Who will take care of our coasts, lagoons, estuaries, and dams in ban season if there won’t be money for surveillance?” he asked.

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