The illegal fishing of totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi), listed in CITES Appendix I, poses a severe threat to the survival of the vaquita, which are caught as bycatch in the nets used by fishers operating illegally in the vaquita refuge area. The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is listed in CITES Appendix I and is a critically endangered porpoise endemic to the Upper Gulf of California.
On October 18-20 and 22, the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) convened an online meeting which brought together representatives of range, transit and consumer States of the totoaba to strengthen efforts to halt illegal fishing of totoaba and the associated trafficking of its swim bladders.
The online meeting was convened by the CITES Secretariat in accordance with Decision 18.294 adopted at the 18th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP18) in 2019. It provided an opportunity for relevant stakeholders to evaluate progress made in combating illegal fishing of totoaba, consider opportunities to eliminate supply and demand for illegally sourced specimens of totoaba, and strengthen law enforcement measures to prevent and address this illegal trade.
The meeting brought together national CITES, law enforcement and other relevant agency representatives from Canada, China including Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, Japan, Mexico, the United States of America, and Viet Nam, as well as representatives from the International Consortium on Combatting Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), partner organizations and other inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations. The meeting was made possible thanks to the financial support from the Government of Switzerland, and it was attended by over 100 participants.
Attendees discussed their individual and joint initiatives meant to curb illegal fishing and trafficking of the totoaba. They focused on identifying opportunities, actions, strategies, measures and activities that could be pursued to strengthen enforcement efforts, collaboration, coordination, and the flow of information between counterparts in different countries.
Participants also held exchanges on the opportunities to support gillnet retrieval programs, strengthen gillnet removal activities, and promoting the use of alternative fishing gear. In addition, they looked at opportunities to develop, strengthen and mobilize demand reduction strategies to combat illegal trade in totoaba and its severe implications for the conservation of vaquita.
CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero said: "I thank all participants that contributed to this important meeting. To successfully address illegal fishing and trafficking in totoaba swim bladders and the threat this poses to the vaquita, strong and close collaboration is essential, both at national and international levels. It is imperative that range, transit and destination States combine their efforts, and jointly work to tackle this issue across the entire illegal trade chain. There is a need to enforce the law and reduce demand for trafficked wildlife products. To meet our common objectives under the CITES mandate and the Sustainable Development objectives, we must continue to strengthen collaborative efforts aimed at responding to the criminal actors involved in these illegal activities."