AP

Mexican navy sets net hooks in bid to help vaquita porpoise

Jul 5, 2022, 3:44 AM | Updated: 4:57 pm

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican navy said Tuesday it has begun a controversial plan to drop concrete blocks onto the bottom of the Gulf of California to snag illegal nets that drown critically endangered vaquita marina porpoises.

As few as eight of the tiny, elusive porpoises remain in the Gulf, also known as the Sea of Cortez. It is the only place they live, and they cannot be captured and bred in captivity.

Vaquitas become trapped and drown in gill nets fishermen set illegally for totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder is a delicacy in China and sells for thousands of dollars per pound (kilogram).

The Mexican government has largely abandoned efforts to keep small fishing boats out of a 110-square-mile (288-square kilometer) “zero tolerance” area near San Felipe, Baja California, where the few remaining vaquita have been seen.

Environmentalists said Tuesday the plan to sink 193 concrete blocks was approved with no public comment and expressed concerns that the metal hooks attached to the blocks may accumulate remnants of nets that could continue to entangle and drown sea life.

“This is a total surprise, because the environmental impact statement was approved in record time, in six weeks. It wasn’t opened to public comment,” said Alex Olivera, the Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Mexico’s Environment Department acknowledged there had been no public comment, but said that was because nobody had requested one. The department has become known for quickly signing off on government projects.

Doubts about the plan abound. It would scatter one block, with a metal hook attacked, every one kilometer over the zero tolerance area. It is not clear how, or whether, any snagged nets would be recovered from underwater.

“A net can be snagged on these hooks, and we don’t know, we’re talking about nets that are hundreds of yards (meters) long, so we don’t know if a net snagged down there might be a double-edged sword, and trap vaquitas,” said Olivera.

Abandoned nets, known as “ghost nets,” can continue killing marine life for years.

Another expert, who did not want to be cited by name out of concern over reprisals, said the plan might discourage the illegal fishermen by causing them to lose nets to the snags.

But he added that it would crucial for the navy to regularly clear out any snagged nets, “or other species could be killed down there.”

In a statement announcing the plan, the navy made a vague mention of “recovering detained nets.” In practice, it would probably require divers to descend and manually cut nets off each of the 193 blocks every few days.

Given the defiance of the fishermen and the lucrative nature of the illegal trade in dried totoaba bladders, there is also no guarantee that fishermen might not mark — either physically or with GPS — the location of the blocks and fish around them.

Last year, the Mexican government abandoned the policy of keeping fishing boats out of the “zero tolerance” zone in the upper Gulf. It then introduced a sliding scale of punishments if more than 60 fishing boats are seen in the area on multiple occasions.

Olivera expressed doubts. “They can’t be checking these blocks every day,” he said.

Earlier this year, the United States filed the first trade-based environmental complaint under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade pact, arguing that Mexico is failing to protect the species.

Mexico has agreed to an investigation. Under the treaty, which took effect in 2020, the complaint could lead to trade sanctions.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Image: Members of the Makah Indian tribe paddle away from the rising sun as they head from Neah Bay...

Associated Press

Washington’s Makah Tribe clears major hurdle toward resuming traditional whale hunts

The U.S. granted the Makah Indian Tribe a long-sought waiver that helps clear the way for its first sanctioned whale hunts since 1999.

19 hours ago

jerry west...

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

Jerry West, a 3-time Hall of Fame selection and the NBA logo, dies at 86

Jerry West, a three-time Basketball Hall of Fame inductee whose silhouette is considered to be the basis of the NBA logo, died Wednesday morning.

2 days ago

Photo: Construction vehicles are parked outside of the Station U & O building on Tuesday, June 11, ...

Haleluya Hadero, The Associated Press

Amazon adds $1.4B to affordable housing fund for regions where it has corporate offices

Amazon is adding $1.4B to a fund for building more affordable housing in regions where the company has major corporate offices.

3 days ago

hunter biden...

Randall Chase and the Associated Press

Hunter Biden convicted of all 3 felony charges in federal gun trial

Hunter Biden has been convicted of all three felony charges related to the purchase of a revolver in 2018, but no sentencing date was set.

3 days ago

Photo: A Bremerton man who made 20 "swatting" calls around the U.S. and in Canada, prompting real e...

Associated Press

Bremerton man sentenced for 20 ‘swatting’ calls of false threats in US, Canada

A Bremerton man who made 20 "swatting" calls around the U.S. and in Canada, prompting real emergency responses, has been sentenced.

4 days ago

Image: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, speaks with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zele...

Associated Press

Ukraine uses US weapons to strike inside Russia, a Western official tells AP

Ukraine has used U.S weapons to strike inside Russia in recent days, according to a Western official familiar with the matter told the AP.

9 days ago

Mexican navy sets net hooks in bid to help vaquita porpoise