Save the Vaquita Marina! But, what about the fishermen?

They might have saved the vaquita marina in the Sea of Cortés, but did they sacrifice the fishermen to do so?

Vaquita marina (Image: Greenpeace)
Vaquita marina (Image: Greenpeace)

In San Felipe, Baja California, nearly 900 fisherman and permit holders must stop the one thing they’ve done their entire lives and the one thing that has put food on their table.

The federal government has doubled the area of a restricted fishing zone and prevented any fishing activity for the next two years in the northern part of the Sea of Cortés in an attempt to save the endangered vaquita porpoise and the totoaba. The measure restricts fishing to clams, crabs and perch, and nets may only be deployed for a few minutes.

Although the totoaba, native to Baja, has successfully been repopulated in recent years, fishermen in the region are complaining that new prohibitions always create bustling black markets.

Fishboats in San Felipe: paid not to fish. (Photo: MEXICOENFOTOS.COM)
Fishboats in San Felipe: paid not to fish. (Photo: MEXICOENFOTOS.COM)

Nevertheless, the government has stated it intends to compensate the fishermen with thousands of pesos due to the ban in the area designated as a biosphere reserve, which has been extended to the San Felipe coast for the purpose of protecting the two species. The fishermen aren’t sure.

“Well, the government says they will compensate us, but the money probably won’t get to us,” one San Felipe fisherman laments, arguing that among the list of beneficiaries not a single one of them has anything to do with fishing.

The compensation is supposed to go to permit holders, fishermen and key players along supply chains.

Vaquita Marina (Photo: Pulso de San Luis)
Vaquita Marina (Photo: Pulso de San Luis)

On March 1 the environment secretariat announced a strategy to save the vaquita by employing four measures: expanding the restricted area, financial compensation to fishermen, surveillance inspections, and after two years, the use of new nets.

The federal proposal includes paying 486,000 pesos to those with permits to catch shrimp, 289,000 pesos for finfish and 105,000 pesos for shark. Of these annual figures, 30% would be for fishermen and 70% for permit holders.

The federal government promised to compensate all those involved in the business of fishing, including distribution, cleaning and product preparation, along with workers who gut fish, maintain boats and supply the industry.

A committee was formed in order to develop concrete compensation plans by January 1, 2015, but nothing came of it. New plans were due by April 1, but none has been formalized.

The two-year protection plan, designed to throw a lifeline to the less than 100 remaining vaquita, will cost over 1 billion pesos, or US $66 million.

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