Environmental organization Sea Shepherd debuted its new ship Seahorse in the fight to save the vaquita porpoise from extinction due to illegal fishing in Mexico’s Gulf of California.
The Mexican government and Sea Shepherd work together in Operation Milagro to protect the zero-tolerance zone of the Vaquita Refuge, a protected area in the Gulf of California where gillnet fishing -which entangles and kills vaquitas- is illegal.
Conservationists have previously been involved in violent confrontations with fishermen while removing illegal fishing nets.
Operation Milagro has reduced illegal fishing activity in the protected area by more than 70 percent in the past year. “This is encouraging news, but we always have to do better,” Sea Shepherd chairman Pritam Singh told journalists onboard the new ship.
“We chose and refitted the Seahorse specifically for its design and capacity, both of which will dramatically increase our effectiveness and ability to protect the vaquita in 2023,” he added.
Vaquitas are a small porpoise species native to the Gulf of California in Mexico. They are considered the most endangered marine mammal in the world.
Fewer than twenty vaquita porpoises are left in the world, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Many vaquitas have been killed by gillnet nets used to catch totoaba, a fish that is also endangered and highly valued for their swim bladder in China.
Gillnet fishing involves using a net with small mesh holes. The holes are bog enough for a fish’s head but not body. When a fish goes through a hole and tries to back out, his gills get stuck in the net, and the fish is caught.
The method is also used to catch salmon, herring, cod, halibut and other fish species. And bigger marine animals like dolphins, turtles and whales also get caught up in the nets, which leads to injury or death.