On the occasion of Secretary of State John Kerry's Our Ocean Conference, the Marine Mammal Commission and the National Marine Fisheries Service pledge broad new support to the work of the President of Mexico's Advisory Commission for the Recovery of the Vaquita to address the threat of fisheries bycatch to this critically endangered marine mammal. The United States is the market for shrimp and fish caught in these fisheries, while illegal catches of the totoaba, a highly valued fish species, are shipped illegally across the US border to markets in other countries.
The tiny vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) is the world's most endangered cetacean species. Numbering fewer than 200 individuals, the vaquita's rapid decline toward extinction illustrates the severe consequences of the global problem of bycatch in marine fisheries. Without immediate targeted action the vaquita will almost certainly follow the Yangtze River dolphin, (baiji), into oblivion and become the second cetacean species, of only 90, brought to extinction in the 21st century. While the resources required to save the vaquita are relatively small on a global scale, the loss of this marine mammal species would not only disrupt the marine ecosystem of the Gulf of California, Mexico, but also represent a significant global-scale failure in managing our marine resources.
We pledge new support for international experts to engage with the government of Mexico and strengthen its efforts to introduce vaquita-safe fishing gear and methods, optimize effectiveness of protected areas, target enforcement of both fisheries and trade controls, and develop market incentives for vaquita-safe products. We will also support scientific evaluation of trends in the vaquita population, including statistical assessment of the effectiveness of measures taken by Mexico to slow the species' decline. Of particular importance to meeting these objectives is support for the fifth meeting, in July 2014, of the International Committee for the Recovery of Vaquita.