The vaquita is the world’s most endangered marine mammal. Studies estimate there may be as few as eight vaquitas remaining in the Gulf of California, the only place they exist and where they often become entangled in illegal gill nets and drown.
Mexico faces sanctions from the international wildlife body known as CITES for not doing enough to protect the vaquita. The sanctions are designed to compel Mexico to to save the vaquita where all other efforts have failed.
Captain Paul Watson was interviewed regarding this issue, and expressed his views as follows:
Question: CITES has sanctioned Mexico over the status of the Vaquita. This means Mexican fish products will be sanctioned because of Mexico’s inaction on protecting the endangered Vaquita. How has it come to such serious measures?
Captain Paul Watson: CITES has no choice. Mexico has been dragging its feet on any real action to protect the endangered Vaquita. Unless Mexico decides to get tough with the poachers the world will lose the Vaquita.
Question: Sea Shepherd, the organization you founded, began working on the Vaquita issue in 2015 with a campaign to search out and confiscate illegally set gill nets. What happened?
Captain Paul Watson: It was a good plan and it was working. I am confident that if we had not confiscated and destroyed some 150,000 meters of net between 2015 and 2020, the Vaquita would already be extinct. However, in 2019, control of Operation Milagro was taken away from me. Our best people were dismissed and the campaign began to unravel. First, they stopped pulling nets and replaced that strategy with a somewhat impotent monitoring program that in my opinion has become nothing more than parroting the propaganda views of the government of Mexico. Secondly, they scrapped our best ships and replaced them with more comfortable vessels, replacing speed and efficiency for comfort for the monitoring team.
Question: Sea Shepherd has been reporting that their monitoring program has been a success, that Mexico is taking the situation seriously and responding when Sea Shepherd reports poachers. Is this a realistic depiction of the current state of affairs?
Captain Paul Watson: The reports that I have gotten from crewmembers is that the Mexican Navy does not always respond and if they do they take their time in doing so. The real question is why aren’t the Mexicans watching the situation themselves? They have more vessels including smaller vessels than Sea Shepherd has. What Sea Shepherd is providing is credibility. Having an NGO on site reporting positively about what Mexico is doing has been invaluable to Mexico. In my opinion if Sea Shepherd is not actively confiscating illegal nets, they are not doing anything but greenwashing the Mexican government.
The goal must be 100% of absolute protection in the Vaquita.
Studies estimate there may be as few as eight vaquitas remaining in the Gulf of California
Question: What would you be doing differently?
Captain Paul Watson: I would have insisted on continuing the work of pulling and destroying nets. When Mexico called a halt to confiscation of nets, I would have insisted on continuing or I would have informed Mexico that we would not abandon the most successful tactic we had, a tactic that was working. If Mexico insisted, I would have pulled out. I would not have wanted Sea Shepherd to be party to a watered-down program that will cause the extinction of the Vaquita.
Question: An ABC news report for March 3rd of this year quotes Sea Shepherd as saying that their efforts working with Mexico have reduced poaching by 79%. In your expert opinion, is this percentage accurate?
Captain Paul Watson: First of all, I don’t believe that and secondly with only 8 Vaquita left, the 21% of poachers still operating can wipe the Vaquita out of existence. The goal must be 100% of absolute protection in the Vaquita. Mexico needs to take this seriously and having a bunch of volunteers reporting poachers is not serious. Sea Shepherd Crewmembers have reported the poachers laugh at them and give them the finger. When a poacher is spotted the poacher needs to be stopped and the nets confiscated. The Mexican Navy needs to institute 24-hour patrols and they need to be on site permanently. Alex Olivera for the Center for Biological Diversity has said that what is needed is fewer plans and bureaucracy and more concrete actions in the Vaquita Reserve.
Question: ABC quotes Sea Shepherd chairman Pritam Singh saying Sea Shepherd has to do better. Can you provide any insight on what that may entail with this individual at the helm?
Captain Paul Watson: Sea Shepherd was doing better before he took control. The man is a Florida property developer. He holds hunting and fishing licenses in Alaska and Florida. He owns a fishing lodge in Alaska. He fired all the captains that were making a real difference for Operation Milagro. He has no marine conservation experience at all and he has completely restricted Sea Shepherd to no longer focus on real direct action and interventions.
Question: Is there hope for the Vaquita?
Captain Paul Watson: There is always hope but only if the Mexican government takes the situation seriously and Sea Shepherd stops sugar-coating the lack of action by the Mexican government.