Mexico removes 'ghost' nets to save tiny porpoise

Of the 103 nets removed, 24 were between 80m and 500m long and meant to catch totoaba, shark and other fish.
Of the 103 nets removed, 24 were between 80m and 500m long and meant to catch totoaba, shark and other fish.PHOTO: AFP

MEXICO CITY (AFP) - The Mexican government has removed so-called "ghost" fishing nets that are left floating in the sea in another effort to save the world's smallest porpoise, the vaquita marina, from extinction.

The environment ministry said Thursday (Dec 15) that the navy, conservation groups and fishermen removed 103 nets between Oct 10 and Dec 7 in the upper Gulf of California.

The vaquita's population dropped to around 60 late last year despite the government's deployment of navy ships in April 2015 to prevent illegal fishing with nets that accidentally ensnare the porpoise.

Three drones joined the campaign in July, armed with high-resolution cameras to spot illegal activities in the Gulf area also known as the Sea of Cortez.

The vaquita has died in gillnets used to illegally catch a large fish known as the totoaba, which is also endangered.

Fishermen capture the totoaba for its swim bladder, which is dried and sold for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market in China.

Of the 103 nets removed during 21 days, 24 were between 80 and 500 meters long and meant to catch totoaba, shark and other fish.

A local fishing organization, the World Wildlife Fund, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the navy participated in the removal of ghost nets in an area covering 11,814 kilometers.

"The goal of this ambitious programme, which the authorities plan to continue in an uninterrupted manner, is to eliminate abandoned fishing nets and prevent the vaquita marina from being accidentally trapped in them," the environment ministry said.

The porpoise's population dropped from 200 in 2012 to fewer than 100 in 2014 and some 60 in late 2015 December, according to the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), a global group of scientists.

At this pace, conservationists fear that the vaquita will be extinct by 2022.