By Julia Love
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Conservation organizations on Thursday called on U.S. consumers and seafood companies to boycott Mexican shrimp as part of a last-ditch campaign to save a rare porpoise teetering on the verge of extinction.
Populations of the vaquita, a tiny snub-nosed porpoise that resides in the Gulf of California, have dropped sharply in recent years, a casualty of gillnet fishing for shrimp and totoaba, a popular delicacy in Asia.
Mexico imposed a two-year ban on gillnet fishing in the vaquita’s habitat in 2015, but the prohibition is set to expire, and environmental advocates say it has been poorly enforced.
A coalition of dozens of conservation groups are calling for the Mexican government to enact a permanent ban on gillnet fishing and step up enforcement. The coalition includes the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"It’s clear that the actions taken by Mexico to date have not been consistent enough or sufficient enough to protect the species," Kate O’Connell, a marine wildlife consultant at the Animal Welfare Institute, told reporters.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Jose Calzada, Mexico’s agriculture minister, stressed that the government is working to protect the vaquita, adding that the nation’s environmental secretary has crafted an "ambitious program."
"We want to develop arts of fishing so that [Mexican fishers] can continue with their work of traditional fishing… but by no means will we damage the vaquita," he said.
Only about 30 vaquita remain, and the population has been declining by about 50 percent per year, said Thomas Jefferson, a marine mammologist who serves as director of Viva Vaquita.
With the clock running down, O’Connell said the groups hope to replicate the success of a consumer boycott of tuna in the 1980s that pressured U.S. companies to stop setting nets near dolphins to catch the fish.
(Editing by Frank Jack Danie)