Guy Harvey Magazine

FALL 2017

Guy Harvey Magazine is focused on fishing, boating, scuba diving, and marine conservation. Portfolios from the world's best fishing photographers, articles on gear, travel, tournaments, apparel, lifestyle, seafood recipes, sustainable fisheries.

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Page 24 of 83 | 25 However, one species of porpoise has been literally caught up in a fishery targeting another animal altogether. The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is the most endangered marine mammal on the planet. Like many issues facing our ocean ecosystem, the threat to the vaquita is one of unsustainable fishing. These animals only reproduce every other year and typically only give birth to one offspring at a time, so their population cannot maintain the current level of extraction. Even more, vaquitas are not even the direct target of any whalers, hunters or fishermen. They simply have the unfortunate circumstance of sharing their habitat with a highly prized, and also critically endangered fish. The totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) is a species of drum fish native to the central and northern Gulf of California. The totoaba has been the biggest fishery in the Gulf since the early 1950s. Many Asian cultures place a high demand on the totoaba swim bladder, making them a valuable fish to harvest. However, the life history of the totoaba, including its long life span and aggregation spawning strategy, make them especially susceptible to overfishing. Commercial fishing for totoaba was officially banned in 1975 and it is currently illegal in the United States and Mexico to buy or sell any parts of the fish. However, the continued demand for the swim bladder and a high selling price has driven a black market and illegal trade of totoaba. According to research by the Environmental Investigation Agency, totoaba swim bladders can sell for as much as $8,500/kg on the black market, giving poachers a great deal of incentive to continue fishing illegally. The poachers fish for totoaba using gillnets. These nets are strung in a waterway between two buoys and form an almost invisible wall of mesh that indiscriminately catches anything that tries to pass through, including turtles, dolphins and vaquita. Since vaquita and totoaba are roughly the same size, these nets are all too effective at catching both species. Vaquita become entangled in these gillnets and drown. The government of Mexico has been working diligently to help save their native porpoise. With input from researchers, the government has set an action plan into place to save the last of the vaquita. The strategy will be two-fold, including capturing as many of the remaining animals as possible to house in a protected pen within their natural range and to prohibit and remove all gillnets in the area, regardless of the targeted species. The Mexican government has put their money where their mouth is with over $100 million spent in support of a temporary gillnet fishing ban, which included payments for lost revenue Photos of live vaquitas are extremely rare. Some experts think that the species has already been completely wiped out. Photo courtesy of SeaWorld.

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