Sea Shepherd Legal Leads Discussion on IUU Fishing as Organized Crime at Convention of Prosecutors and Attorneys General

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The panel of experts at the opening ceremony of the Prosecutors and Attorneys General Convention in Peru

In early October 2017, scores of prosecutors and attorneys general from fourteen Latin American nations, five European nations, and the United States gathered in Lima, Peru. Under the title “Convention of Prosecutors and Attorneys General: Seeking Effective Mechanisms in the Fight Against Organized Crime and Corruption,” the attendees spent three days examining various forms of organized crime and articulating best practices to fight back.

In response to a formal invitation from Peru’s Attorney General, Sea Shepherd Legal led a lively discussion on Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing as organized crime.  Specific topics included modus operandi, the various ways in which IUU fishing meets the common criteria associated with transnational organized crime, recent cases from Latin America (including the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 incident in Galapagos), and, most importantly, best practices for prosecutors working to counter IUU fishing.

Our basic message was simple:  IUU Fishing is serious, transnational organized crime. Government authorities need to respond accordingly.

What are the defining characteristics of “organized crime”?  

Does organized crime require the existence of a dedicated network of actors?  Crime for profit’s sake, as opposed to crimes of opportunity or crimes of passion?  Or perhaps we need a sufficiently “serious” racket (whether in terms of money or suffering) to distinguish “organized crime” from its petty brethren?  Is the existence of secondary offenses (e.g., tax evasion, money laundering) a necessary part of the formula?

When most people hear the term “organized crime,” they think of mafiosos breaking knee-caps in dark alleys, drug kingpins the calling shots from the comfort of their yachts — maybe even gun-runners smuggling arms across some far-flung border.  Alas, for most people, the lists ends there.  The popular conversation surrounding organized crime rarely reaches environmental offenses.  Yet, under any of the criteria suggested above, environmental crimes — including wildlife trafficking, illegal mining, illegal logging, and illegal fishing — are plainly the province of transnational organized crime.

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As the above graphic from a recent UNEP report demonstrates, environmental crimes rival and even eclipse many of their more “traditional” counterparts in terms of lucrativeness.  See C. Nellemann, The Environmental Crime Crisis – Threats to Sustainable Development from Illegal Exploitation and Trade in Wildlife and Forest Resources (UNEP 2014).

In the case of IUU fishing, these dollar amounts translate into enormous percentages of the overall trade.  According to even conservative estimates, IUU fishing accounts for up to 22% of total global production.  In some ports, one out of every two fish landed comes from an IUU operation.

Beyond sheer statistics, the realities of IUU fishing paint a grim picture — one of highly organized networks systematically raping the oceans, often with the use of violence, intimidation, and corruption.   Captains use forced labor and torture to keep crews in line; journalists are beaten and, in at least one case, murdered for investigating stories; fishing vessels are used to smuggle drugs and to engage in human trafficking.  In addition to this parade of horribles is the core harm to the oceans: millions of sharks, fish, and other marine animals taken unlawfully, and often under horrific circumstances, from the sea, every single year.

Compounding the problem, government actors have historically treated IUU fishing as a low-level offense.  Only recently has the conversation pivoted, slowly, to recognize IUU fishing as a form of transnational organized crime.  Sea Shepherd Legal is working to promote this paradigm shift.

 

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RESIST: Standing Firm Against Trump’s Attacks on Marine Monuments and Sanctuaries

Donald Trump isn’t a big fan of laws.  Those annoying byproducts of democratic society get in the way of rule by fiat — or Twitter, as it were.  Donald Trump isn’t a big fan of the environment either.  Combining these two proclivities, Trump has charted a course to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, to gut the Endangered Species Act, and to renounce any responsibility to take action on climate change.

Trump also has a discordant position on monuments:  If they are memorials to Confederate leaders, removing them is “so foolish!”  Yet, if the monuments set aside land, water, and oceans for conservation, Trump can’t wait to blast them out of existence.

Trump does not limit his plan to destroy or reduce conservation monuments to terrestrial parks like the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.  Rather, as a product of Trump’s Executive Order 13795, “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” Trump seeks to “review” (i.e., reduce or eliminate) 11 National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments designated or expanded since April 28, 2007.  The goal is, quite clearly, to open these spaces up for potential oil and gas operations.

Among the monuments and sanctuaries on the chopping block are the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument off Hawaii, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument off American Samoa, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary off California, and the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary off Michigan.

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Spinner dolphins in the lagoon at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.  Photo credit: Andy Collins/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Here at Sea Shepherd Legal, we are calling out this nonsense and fighting back in the name of conservation and the rule of law.

Our first step was to file comprehensive comments with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in opposition to Trump’s plan.  See SSL Comments on E.O. 13795 Review.   More steps will follow.  We will not go down without a fight.  To quote the former reality television star turned President, “It’s going to be beautiful.  Believe me.”  Despite Trump’s all-out-assault on the crown jewels of our national (and natural) heritage, we have good reason to be optimistic.  The results of a recent analysis demonstrated that, of the approximately 53,000 official comments submitted to NOAA on this topic, 99% were in favor of preserving our national monuments and sanctuaries.

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For those interested in some of the finer legal aspects of this issue, we encourage you to read our comments in full.  We also offer the following additional thoughts on how the President’s approach clashes with environmental and constitutional law.

The epitome of back-sliding

There is an emerging principle in global environmental law known as the principle of non-regression.  At its core, the non-regression principle stands for the common-sense proposition that environmental law should operate as one-way ratchet.  While lawmakers can and should improve environmental laws to meet new challenges, they should not use legislative power to roll back protections.  This principle “is based on the assumption that environmental law seeks to prevent the degradation of the environment by constantly improving environmental quality.”  Lia Helena Monteiro de Lima Demange,  The Principle of Resilience, 30 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 695, 724 (2013).  While this principle may still be in its “embryonic” stage, as Brazilian Justice Antonio Benjamin phrases it, there is no question that this principle is urgently needed in the Anthropocene.  See Antonio Herman Benjamin, Environmental Courts and Tribunals: Improving Access to Justice and Protection of the Environment around the World, 29 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 582, 589 (2012).

“Mr. Trump, the Framers called.  They suggest you take a look at the Constitution.”

In U.S. constitutional and administrative law, there is a far more familiar principle: that of limited executive authority.  Any power that the President has must arise from either an Act of Congress or the Constitution.  Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 585 (1952).  Although the President has authority to communicate his policy preferences to an executive agency, and agencies often have latitude to administer legislation, agency action is still confined by the boundaries of the law.  The President cannot simply undo the work of previous Administrations by saying, in effect, “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

As you read this, the Trump Administration is doing its best to smash both of these principles by laying the groundwork for erasing protections in 11 duly designated and/or expanded Marine National Monuments and National Marine Sanctuaries.

Please consider supporting our work to fight back by making a tax-deductible donation.

Calling out the Cacophony: Sea Shepherd Legal Submits Comments on Proposed Navy Sonar Operations

In the popular imagination, the ocean is synonymous with tranquility.  The crashing noise of a violent storm serves merely to punctuate, throwing into sharper relief the soothing sounds of lapping waves and gentle breeze that we so frequently associate with the sea.

Yet, as marine bioacoustics expert Christopher Clark explains, we deceive ourselves with these quaint notions:

“We look out at the ocean and see this bucolic seascape, and some seagulls flying along the horizon and maybe a sailboat, and we think everything is hunky dory. Well, it isn’t. We are injecting so much noise that we are effectively acoustically bleaching the world’s oceans.” — Prof. Christopher Clark, Cornell University

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Credit: OceanCare

Over the past several decades, marine noise pollution has grown at an exponential rate. Noise from vessel traffic is doubling every decade.  Pile-driving, dredging, and seismic exploration for oil and gas add to the cacophony.  This last source, typically employing “air guns,” may be the worst of all.  As Clark observes, the noise from an air-gun survey is truly mind-boggling:

“It is so loud that when someone is surveying off northern Brazil, I can hear that explosion on a small piece of instrumentation that I deploy 60 miles off the coast of Virginia.”  — Prof. Christopher Clark, Cornell University

On top of all this, the U.S. Navy and other military forces around the world harass marine mammals with sonar, repeatedly blasting them with sound waves that cause severe stress, behavioral changes, masking (i.e., difficulty perceiving important natural sounds), non-auditory injury (i.e., gas bubble formation/rectified diffusion), strandings, and noise-induced loss of hearing sensitivity (a.k.a., “threshold shift”).

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Credit: Collective Evolution

At Sea Shepherd Legal, we are fighting back.  On May 30, we filed a comprehensive document opposing a proposed regulation that would authorize the Navy to harass marine mammals all over the world through sonar training operations.

Harassing, or “taking,” marine mammals in this way is presumptively illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).  Nevertheless, by invoking the MMPA’s exception for “incidental take,” the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposes to issue regulations authorizing the Navy to harm almost incalculable numbers of marine mammals while conducting training exercises using low-frequency sonar.  The breadth of the proposed rule—and of the underlying activity it would facilitate—cannot be overstated.  This is, quite literally, a rulemaking of global proportions.

NMFS’ proposed rule would authorize “Level B” harassment of more than 100 species and stocks of marine mammals, with the list of potentially impacted species reading like a taxonomist’s index of the world’s cetaceans and pinnipeds.  Level B harassment is no trifling matter.  It is statutorily defined as “any act that disturbs or is likely to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of natural behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, to a point where such behavioral patterns are abandoned or significantly altered.”   16 U.S.C. § 1362(18).

The proposed rule would authorize not just a few Level B takes here and there; it would authorize Level B harassment of up to 12 percent of any of the 100-plus stocks and species every single year, over a five-year period.  And the rule would not limit these takes to a particular region or stretch of ocean; save for polar waters, the Navy would have free reign to harass marine mammals in all of the world’s oceans, including the Mediterranean Sea.

As we explain in our comments, this rule would violate the MMPA because it ignores cumulative impacts and fails to prescribe sufficient mitigation measures.  Worse still, the rule is a slap in the face to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  Less than one year ago, the Ninth Circuit rebuked NMFS regarding the previous iteration of this same rule (covering the 2012 to 2017 time period).  NRDC, Inc. v. Pritzker, 828 F.3d 1125 (9th Cir. 2016).  Remarkably, just ten months later, NMFS repeats these mistakes, proposing a rule that runs roughshod over the MMPA’s formidable limitations governing “incidental takes.”  If NMFS does not revise the rule to incorporate additional mitigation measures and to properly account for cumulative impacts, the agency will, yet again, violate the MMPA.

To read our full analysis, click here.

To support our efforts to combat marine noise pollution, including ongoing work to address the plight of endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales and to fight against seismic surveys around the world, please consider making a tax-deductible donation.

Sea Shepherd Legal Securing Justice for the Sea – A 2016 Retrospective

At Sea Shepherd Legal, we are working to change the polices, practices, actions and inactions that imperil marine species — adding a new dimension to Sea Shepherd’s 40-year record of success.

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Using litigation, policy development and public outreach, we work globally on many issues.  Here are just a few of our 2016 projects:

(1)  Conducted training and provided materials to assist the Republic of Palau with enforcing its new 500,000 km² marine sanctuary against rampant poaching.   For more information, see this press release: palau-workshop-i-press-release.

(2)  Demanded the listing of imperiled marine species under domestic and international regimes.  From manatees and oceanic whitetip sharks under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) to thresher sharks, silky sharks, and devil rays under CITES, we are insisting that legal regimes live up to their potential.  If environmental laws are just slogans, they might as well be thrown in the dumpster.  We mean to see these laws enforced.

(3)  Provided legal briefing to officials in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritania, Senegal and Singapore to halt ongoing illicit fishing activities discovered in Sea Shepherd Global’s Operation Icefish II and Operation Driftnet.

(4) Submitted amicus curiae brief in U.S. Court of Appeals to (1) support release of captive orca Lolita from Miami Seaquarium; (2) contest inappropriately narrow interpretation of “take” under the ESA; and (3) contest suggestion by lower court that captive animals are less susceptible to “take” than are wild animals.

(5) Opposed three applications by oil & gas exploration entities for “Incidental Take Permits” to harass (harm or even kill) Cook Inlet belugas.

(6) Filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for failing to timely provide requested materials related to Cook Inlet belugas.

(7) Partnered with the Latin American Environmental Prosecutors Network to enhance protections for marine wildlife and habitat throughout the region.  Among other efforts, we secured 140,000-plus signatures to pressure the government of Brazil to take specific action to protect the iconic Guiana dolphin from bycatch and irresponsible coastal development.

 . . . and a whole lot more.

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As the challenges mount, we rise to meet them.  This past year was overflowing with threats to marine ecosystems and wildlife.  Far from leaving us feeling overwhelmed, the dire state of affairs only strengthens our resolve.

Thank you to the entire Sea Shepherd family and its legion of supporters around the globe.  Here’s to 2017.  Bring it on.

One fish, two fish, three fish more . . . Success at CITES confirmed!

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For nearly two weeks now Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) has been in South Africa advocating on behalf of marine species at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).  Despite its long name, this treaty has a simple driving purpose: to prevent international trade in wildlife (and plants) that is detrimental to the survival of the species.  While SSL does not condone treating wildlife as a “resource” to be traded “sustainably,” we recognize that CITES, with 183 signatory nations, represents one of the only safeguards against the unfettered exploitation of wild animals on a global scale.

For decades, CITES has played an important role in protecting terrestrial species but has been woefully inadequate in extending the same protections to marine species.  The precious oceans and their inhabitants are being devastated by increasing levels of legal and illegal fishing driven by our insatiable demand for seafood.  Yet, despite these dire circumstances, only a handful of marine species have been placed on CITES’ lists – an Appendix I listing banning commercial trade, or an Appendix II listing restricting trade “detrimental” to the survival of the species.

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Now to the good news.  By greater than the two-thirds majority required, the CITES parties voted to include thresher and silky sharks as well as devil rays in Appendix II.  SSL worked hard to prepare for this conference and to lobby nations that were “on the fence” to vote in favor of marine conservation.  Toward this end, we invited party delegates to our side event, in which we highlighted the fact that CITES has long neglected marine species, presented counterarguments to Japan’s long-repeated and unsupported arguments against listing any marine species under CITES, and showcased the role that Sea Shepherd plays in marine species protection.  As part of our event, we also assembled a panel of experts and party proponents of the listings to deliver the message that greater species protections were critical and achievable.

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Species Listed at CITES CoP 17

In preparing to leave South Africa for our next project, we cannot help but to reflect on the overall experience.  CITES has a reputation for shady backroom deals and shameful attempts to “buy” votes from party delegates.  While it it true that we witnessed such nefarious conduct, we also grew to appreciate the sincere efforts by many parties – and particularly some of the developing (or less developed) nations – to advocate on behalf of wildlife conservation against determined opposition.  For the marine species at issue in this conference, the results of these labors – Appendix II listings – offer renewed hope for their continued survival and potential recovery in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.

SEA SHEPHERD LEGAL -Working to Secure Justice for Lolita

In early September, Sea Shepherd Legal filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the PETA v. Miami Seaquarium case.  PETA and and its allies previously filed a lawsuit against the Miami Seaquarium to protest the captivity and treatment of the orca Lolita, who has spent more than 45 years in a small tank to entertain the public.  The evidence showed that Lolita suffers from a variety of harms, including repetitive behavior due to cramped conditions, rake injuries inflicted by socially incompatible dolphins, and skin and eye damage from inadequate shade.  However, the trial court ultimately decided that these harms were insufficient to establish a violation of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  PETA is appealing the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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In seeking justice for Lolita, PETA enlisted Sea Shepherd Legal’s assistance.  Our brief supports PETA’s position by asserting that the trial court has ignored decades of Supreme Court case law interpreting the ESA.  Sea Shepherd Legal also emphasizes that the court’s opinion wrongly assumes captive animals like Lolita have a greater tolerance for pain and suffering than their wild counterparts.

We are hopeful that, by adding our voice to the fight, we will convince the appellate court to arrive at the best decision for Lolita.

Sea Shepherd Legal Enlists Public’s Help to Save the Imperiled Guiana Dolphin

On the eve of the 2016 Rio Olympics, Sea Shepherd Legal launches a worldwide online petition to compel the government of Brazil to protect the last remaining Guiana dolphins in Rio de Janeiro before they go extinct.

The Guiana dolphin looks similar to the bottlenose dolphin but smaller. More inconspicuous than its counterparts, these cetaceans prefer to live in small groups of about two to 10 individuals.

Since 2003, Rio’s Guiana dolphin numbers have dropped by 40%.  Nearly 10 Guiana dolphins are killed every month in fishing nets in the Bay of Sepetiba, in Rio. Today, there are less than 800 remaining and the Guiana dolphin may become extinct in just a few short years.

Additional threats include commercial illegal fishing, pollution, depletion of prey and habitat, ship traffic, port development and other coastal impacts.

“What we are fighting for here is to ensure that the Guiana dolphin doesn’t go the way of Mexico’s vaquita porpoise – a species moments away from extinction due to some of the same threats,” explained Sea Shepherd Legal’s Executive Director, Catherine Pruett. Scientists recently concluded that just 60 vaquita are left.

“With the spotlight on Rio for the summer Olympics, this represents a real opportunity for the government of Brazil to show the world that it is in tune with public sentiment and that it cares about wildlife, specifically the Guiana dolphin,” Pruett said.

Rio flag coat of arms

Ironically, the flag of the city of Rio de Janeiro is an image of its coat of arms, supported by two dolphins. This flag was adopted in 1908. Now, 118 years later, Rio’s Guiana dolphin is desperate need of its own support.

The petition is addressed to the following responsible government agencies:  the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, Instituto Estadual do State Institute of the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply, Federal Police – Ministry of Justice, Rio de Janeiro Port Authority, and Itacuruçá Port Authority.

This is part of a collaborative effort between Sea Shepherd Legal, two local NGOs and Brazil’s Federal Prosecutors office, which is working diligently to save the Guiana dolphin by pressing these agencies to take action.

NYT Article: New U.S.-Mexico Vaquita Protections Useless Unless China Curbs Totoaba Demand

By Andrew C. Revkin

July 27, 2016 7:30 am July 27, 2016 7:30 am

vaquitaA pair of vaquitas, a porpoise driven toward extinction by certain fishing methods, in Mexico’s Gulf of California.Credit Paula Olson / NOAA

In theory, July 9 was International Save the Vaquita Day, conceived to press Mexico to do more to protect the last few dozen members of a tiny and profoundly endangered porpoise species confined to overfished waters at the north end of the Gulf of California.

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A 2015 survey of the home waters of the world’s most endangered marine mammal, Mexico’s vaquita porpoise, found the population has continued to plunge.Credit International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita

In practice, last Friday could well have been that day. After a morning meeting at the White House, President Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico released a long list of new initiatives on issues of shared concern. Sorry, Donald, there’s no wall building, but the list touches on climate-friendly energy initiatives, trade and travel and — crucially for the vaquita — a strong new suite of commitments from both nations.

Most important, by far, is Nieto’s presidential-level affirmation that Mexico will turn what was to be a two-year moratorium on deadly gill nets in vaquita habitat into a permanent ban. Here’s the relevant section of the joint announcement, along with my thoughts on a critical next step involving China:

– Mexico will make permanent a ban on the use of gillnets in all fisheries throughout the range of the vaquita in the upper Gulf of California;

– Both countries will increase cooperation and enforcement efforts to immediately halt the illegal fishing for and illegal trade in totoaba swim bladders;

– Both countries will redouble efforts, in collaboration with international experts, to develop alternative fishing gear to gillnets that does not result in the entanglement of vaquita and establish “vaquita-safe” fisheries;

– Both countries will establish and implement a long-term program to remove and permanently dispose of illegal and derelict fishing gear from vaquita habitat in the upper Gulf of California.

The permanent ban had been announced by fisheries officials in Mexico earlier last week, but the presidential agreement reinforces the commitment.

A 60 Minutes report in May provided a helpful fresh look at the challenging realities on the waters off San Felipe, the Mexican town where many of the fishing boats plying the vaquita’s habitat are based.

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Dried swim bladders from a large endangered Mexican fish, the totoaba, for sale in Guangshou, China.Credit Environmental Investigation Agency

The report also focused on an issue I’ve written on periodically — how the vaquita death rate has been driven up by unrelenting Chinese demand for the dried swim bladder of the totoaba, a large endangered fish found in the same waters. The air-breathing marine mammals become entangled in the fine-mesh nets.

But there could be reason for hope on the demand side, as well. A fascinating 2015 feature story in Quartz by Gwynn Guilford laid out links between the global economic crisis of 2008, Chinese investment habits and the poor vaquita. Here’s an excerpt on how the “bladder bubble” built and burst:

What drove the demand was that in times of strife, Chinese households have been known to stockpile the more valuable bladders as speculative investments, on some occasions even trading them as currency.

That’s what happened after the 2008 global financial crisis hit. The Chinese government reacted with a stimulus package that sent easy money sloshing around the economy—adding up to 17.5 trillion yuan ($2.8 trillion) in 2009 and 2010 (paywall). Cash flooded into a dizzying array of speculative assets, from property and copper to modern art to pu’er tea—and totoaba bladders. Traders in Hong Kong tell of selling large bladders for HK$1 million ($130,000) in 2011 and 2012, according to a recent Greenpeace East Asia report (pdf). These merchants emphasized that buyers weren’t interested in health tonics; they were snapping up these “cash bladders,” as they call them, as investments….

The Chinese investors’ appetite for bladders, the economic slump in Mexico, and lax enforcement created a perfect storm. Signs of the totoaba slaughter began showing up in the upper Gulf of California around 2011, says Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, head of marine mammal conservation and research for the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC) in Mexico.

If the Chinese government cracks down on this illicit trade and speculation and, at the same time, supports efforts to educate consumers the way it did with shark fin soup, it’s conceivable that the vaquita could, by the narrowest conceivable margin, avoid extinction.

Time will tell. I created a bit of artwork to share the message in Chinese. Help pass it to friends in China.

Chinas turn to protect the vaquitaA Mexican porpoise on the verge of extinction needs immediate help from China. Credit Dot Earth

Here are some additional reactions:

Zak Smith, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council focused on marine mammal protection, pointed hopefully to a mention of the totoaba in an agreement last month on marine conservation goals between maritime officials from China and the United States:

China has a vital role to play in saving the vaquita by aggressively rooting out the trafficking of totoaba in Hong Kong and mainland China. The illegal gill-net fishing of totoaba in the northern Gulf of California is causing the vaquita’s perilous decline. Fortunately, just last month the United States and China made important commitments to reduce the impact of wildlife trafficking on totoaba. These commitments and the additional commitments made by Mexico and the United States offer a path for vaquita survival. It is critical for all three countries to live up to their promises

Kate O’Connell, a marine wildlife consultant with the Animal Welfare Institute, reinforced how the shark fin campaign provides a template for curbing demand for totoaba bladders:

It is crucial for the Chinese government to get ahead of the trafficking in totoaba buches. [Buche is the Mexican term for the swim bladders.] Unfortunately, despite calls from both the Mexican and U.S. governments, China has barely acknowledged the conservation crisis that the demand for this high-priced fish product has caused.

Both the Chinese government and nonprofit groups need urgently to address the demand issue with well thought out public education programs. Since the government banned the use of shark fins in government banquets, for example, and celebrity-fronted campaigns such as Wild Aid’s effort with Yao Ming, it appears that demand for shark fins has dropped. If both the vaquita and totoaba are to survive, China must become part of a multi-faceted solution, rather than the major market for an illegal marine product that is helping to drive the vaquita to extinction.

 

Great white sharks in South Africa on the path to extinction, study says

Story highlights

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  • There are only 353 to 522 great whites left in South Africa
  • A handful of factors have contributed to their decline
  • Extinction could affect the area’s marine ecology
Johannesburg (CNN)
Great white sharks in South Africa could be nearing extinction, according to a new study.
Research from Stellenbosch University in South Africa shows there are only some 353 to 522 individual sharks left in the country’s waters.”The numbers in South Africa are extremely low. If the situation stays the same, South Africa’s great white sharks are heading for possible extinction,” said Dr. Sara Andreotti of the Department of Botany and Zoology at SU and lead author of the study.

Andreotti says that the decline in the number of sharks is due to the impact of fishing — especially the implementation of shark nets and baited hooks along the country’s eastern seaboard.
But poaching, habitat encroachment, pollution and depletion of their food sources have also contributed to the decline of great whites.

 

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Researchers note that if the great white shark population continues to decline, it could drastically affect the ecological makeup of the marine environment.
Since the sharks feed on seals, a decrease in sharks would mean a corresponding increase in the seal population, which in turn would affect the fish population.
“The survival of South Africa’s white shark population and the ecological interactions of the coastline will be seriously compromised if urgent management measures to prevent the decline are not put in place,” Andreotti said.
The findings are based on six years of fieldwork.
It’s the largest “field research study” on South Africa’s great white sharks that’s been done to date, Stellenbosch University said.