A US ban on seafood caught by gillnets in the Upper Gulf of California in Mexico remains in place after the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rejected a challenge on the ban by the Trump administration.
This is promising news for the critically endangered vaquita porpoise, one of the rarest and most threatened marine mammal species on the planet, with an estimated 15 individuals remaining.
Vaquitas — also known as the pandas of the sea — are the world’s smallest porpoise, measuring only 1.5 meters (5 feet). They live in a very tiny area in the Upper Gulf of California and are being wiped out due to the illegal use of gillnets in the region. Because of their size, these shy marine mammals are easily entangled and drown in the dangerous gillnets — used to catch shrimp and other species of seafood.
In the last two decades, 95 percent of the vaquita population has been killed, and experts are warning that this species could be extinct within the next two years.
When the case was first brought to the courts in July this year by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare Institute, the federal government attempted to get it dismissed but was overruled.
“Evidence shows that vaquita are killed by gillnet fishing and are on the verge of extinction: because the statutory duty to ban fish imports resulting in such excessive marine mammal bycatch is mandatory, the Government must comply with it,” reported the court at the time.
Since then, the administration has tried to modify or reverse the ban three times – thankfully, they have been unsuccessful.
“The US government is wasting its time and money trying to reverse the court’s order, which will only accelerate the extinction of the critically endangered vaquita,” said DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist for the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). “It’s time for the government to accept the courts’ decisions, ensure full implementation of the ban, and continue to work with the government of Mexico to save the vaquita.”