IWC calls for net bans to prevent extinctions

[news_posted_on] 06 July 2012  | 
Panama City – The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has taken up the cause of some of the world’s most critically endangered marine mammals by calling on governments to keep fishing nets out of their waters to prevent entanglement deaths.

Mexico’s vaquita porpoise and the Maui’s dolphin of New Zealand were a focus of discussions between countries gathered in Panama City for the commission’s annual meeting. Governments urged Mexico and New Zealand to take all possible measures immediately to save the animals from extinction.

“It’s time for diplomatic niceties and step-wise strategies to take a back seat to immediate, concrete action with no compromise,” said Michael Stachowitsch, delegate of Austria to the IWC.

There are believed to be fewer than 200 vaquitas left, and only 55 remaining Maui’s dolphins over a year old. Both animals are severely threatened by accidental bycatch in gillnet fisheries. A total ban on the use of gillnets in the entire ranges of both populations is needed to secure their survival, according to the IWC Scientific Committee’s report.

Scientists say that unless immediate action is taken the vaquita population could soon be extinct. The only known loss of a mammal species from human causes was the Chinese baiji, or Yangtze river dolphin, which was declared functionally extinct by the IWC in 2006. Governments cautioned that this worst case scenario is near for vaquita.

“Mexico has the power to save this unique species by banning all gillnets in vaquita habitat,” said Aimee Leslie, WWF’s marine turtle and cetacean manager.

A similar ban on gillnets and trawl nets is urgently needed throughout the whole habitat of Maui’s dolphin, which is found only in the shallow waters surrounding the North Island of New Zealand. Protection measures announced by the government last week are not enough to save the animals from extinction.

“Advances in technology mean that fishermen and Maui’s dolphins can safely share New Zealand’s waters. We urge the government to deploy alternative fishing gear that is dolphin-friendly and keep all gillnets and trawl nets out of Maui’s habitat,” Leslie said.

Incidental capture in fishing operations is the biggest threat to cetacean species today. It is estimated that more than 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die each year from entanglement in many types of fishing gear, which is an average of one cetacean killed by bycatch every two minutes.

Despite their small numbers, hope remains for vaquitas and Maui’s dolphins. If bycatch is eliminated, scientists believe populations can recover. WWF is supporting the development of alternative fishing gear that is safer for cetaceans and marine turtles.

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Activists bringing a dead vaquita (Phocoena sinus) to the third meeting of CIRVA in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico in January 2004.
Activists bringing a dead vaquita (Phocoena sinus) to the third meeting of CIRVA in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico in January 2004.
© WWF-US / Eugene Lee Enlarge


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