Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) is pleased to announce eight US importers of Mexican seafood—Aquastar, Artisan Catch (Orca Foods LLC), Del Pacifico, Inland Seafood, Meridian Products, Ocean Garden Products, Santa Monica Seafood, and Seattle Fish Company—have joined together to donate $12,000 to VaquitaCPR to fund removal of illegal fishing gear from the upper Gulf of California.

All eight companies participate in a Mexican Seafood Supply Chain Roundtable (SR) facilitated by SFP for managing ongoing sustainability improvement efforts.

The vaquita porpoise in the upper Gulf of California is critically endangered. The most recent population estimate (2018) indicates, at most, only 22 individuals. Though gillnets were banned from the upper Gulf of California throughout the vaquita’s native range in 2017, illegal use of gillnets by totoaba poachers and shrimp fishermen has continued and is threatening the existence of the vaquita.

“Unless this decline can be stopped by eliminating mortality in illegal gillnets, the vaquita will be extinct in a few years,” said the authors of a 2017 report from the 10th meeting of the Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita.

Through VaquitaCPR, conservation organizations such as Museo de la Ballena and the World Wildlife Fund are working with the Mexican Ministry of Environment and Mexican Navy as well as local fishermen to remove the illegal gillnets from the water on a continuing basis. This gear removal program is critical to the survival of the remaining vaquita.

“The seafood community has a long history of supporting the environmental and social needs of our community. None of these needs have been more important than the conservation, protection, and recovery needs of the vaquita porpoise,” said Lance Leonard, President/CEO of Ocean Garden Products, Inc. “The industry stands united in working with government, NGOs, and environmental groups to identify ways to save this unique mammal. We support the activity of VaquitaCPR and hope to bring attention to the cause with our customers and consumers.”

These companies, along with a number of other Mexican Seafood SR participants, have also sent a letter of support for alternative gear development to the Mexican government and upper Gulf of California shrimp fishermen. In this letter, they request that the Mexican government improve enforcement of the gillnet ban, but also expedite the processes necessary to develop and approve a viable alternative gear for small-scale shrimp fishermen.

“We would like to further express our willingness to collaborate in this important effort through the purchase, distribution, and marketing of the shrimp captures resulting from the adoption of fishing gears other than gillnets and or entanglement nets, which do not represent risk of bycatch to the vaquita marina,” participants wrote in the letter.

The importers are pledging future support to develop a market in the U.S. for “vaquita-safe” shrimp, once it becomes available. The letter was sent to the Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development, Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, National Commissioner of Aquaculture and Fisheries, and the National Commissioner of Natural Protected Areas, as well as shrimp producer cooperatives in the upper Gulf region.

According to Megan Westmeyer, SFP Senior Improvements and Strategy Manager, “When the permanent gillnet ban went into effect without a viable alternative gear for the artisanal shrimp fishery, the supply chain lost the ability to use its purchasing power to affect change. Fortunately, these suppliers are determined to see that the upper Gulf of California can be home to both the vaquita porpoise and a sustainable artisanal shrimp fishery, and are taking action to ensure this vision becomes reality.”