Haaland: Mexico’s failure to protect the vaquita marina porpoise undermines wildlife treaty

By Kendal Blust
Published: Friday, May 26, 2023 - 2:42pm

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A vaquita is trapped in a net
NOAA Fisheries
A vaquita trapped in a net.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that illegal fishing for an endangered species in Mexico’s Gulf of California is undermining an international treaty. That could lead the Biden administration to impose a trade embargo.

Mexico’s failure to stop poaching for a large endangered fish called the totoaba is impacting the survival of the world’s most endangered marine mammal, the vaquita marina porpoise. And that diminishes the effectiveness of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) wildlife treaty, according to a letter from the U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to top lawmakers Friday.

Deb Haaland
U.S. Department of the Interior
Deb Haaland

That finding comes after a 2014 petition and subsequent lawsuit in 2022 by environmental groups. They asked the U.S. to use a law known as the Pelly Amendment to ban seafood imports from Mexico over the country's failure to protect the vaquita, which is nearing extinction with only an estimated eight left.

Now, the Biden administration must decide whether to impose a trade embargo or take other action against Mexico.

“Mexico has failed the vaquita and ignored its obligations under international law, so this step is crucial,” Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “No one relishes painful trade sanctions, but without strong, immediate pressure from the international community, there’s a good chance we’ll lose this shy little porpoise forever.”

Mexico has faced other sanction related to the vaquita, including a temporary suspension of all commercial trade in CITES-protected species that lifted on April 13 after Mexico submitted what the CITES Secretariat deemed an acceptable plan to address the vaquita's protection. That plan has not been made available to public, despite efforts by various environmental groups to learn of its contents.

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