California to Join Effort to Save World’s 30 Remaining Vaquita Porpoises

Friday, March 3, 2017

Gloria bill, AB 1151, to Make It Illegal to Possess or Sell Seafood Caught in Gillnets, a Fishing Method Destructive to World’s Smallest Porpoise

SACRAMENTO, CA – California State Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) announced today the introduction of his new bill that would help save the last 30 vaquita porpoises in the world. The bill, AB 1151, would make it illegal to possess or sell fish or fish products from the northern Gulf of California caught with any kind of gillnet.

Gillnets, which are used to catch shrimp and fish, are the greatest threat to the vaquita species, the world’s smallest and most endangered porpoise. Like the seafood targeted by these nets, vaquita become entangled in the nets and then drown.

California can send a clear message of solidarity to the Mexican and international scientists, communities, and conservationists trying to save the vaquita from dying in gillnets,” said Assemblymember Todd Gloria. “This bill helps ensure that Californians are not contributing to the vaquita’s extinction.”

The vaquita population has declined by a stunning 95 percent since 1990. In 1990, there were more than 700. The vaquita’s steep decline is solely attributable to the use of gillnets in their habitat, a 2,000 km² area in the northwest corner of the Gulf of California – an area roughly equal in size to Orange County, California.

As one of the nearest neighbors and purchasers of fish products from the northern Gulf of California, it’s critical that California take a stand for vaquita,” said Zak Smith, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. “There’s no time left for half-hearted efforts to save the ‘pandas of the sea.’ It is imperative that we remove all gillnets from vaquita habitat to halt the extinction of this beautiful, unique porpoise.”

California will not stand idly by while harmful fishing practices push the world’s rarest dolphin to extinction. We can protect the vaquita by stopping the possession of fish products that threaten it,” said Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “California banned the use and importation of shark fins to halt the decline in sharks years ago, and if Assemblymember Gloria’s bill becomes law, California will once again lead the way on protecting our ocean’s rare marine life.” 

Mexico has temporarily banned the use of gillnets for the shrimp fishery and other fisheries in an effort to protect the vaquita. However, there is an exception to the ban that allows for the use of gillnets for the corvina fishery.

Unfortunately, an illegal fishery for a croaker fish called the totoaba (also endangered and also found only in the northern Gulf of California) uses the corvina fishery exception to the ban to continue to kill the exceptionally rare vaquita. Fishermen continue to flood the vaquita’s habitat with gillnets to catch totoaba in response to Asian demand for totoaba swim bladders, which are smuggled to Southeast Asia for use in traditional medicinal soups.

Assemblymember Gloria represents the 78th Assembly District of California and serves as an Assistant Majority Whip.  Assemblymember Gloria’s official, high-resolution photo can be downloaded here.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.