Authority pays fishermen to save species

According to the Mexican government nearly 800 fishermen in the northernmost crook of the Gulf of California have taken up the offer of payments to stop fishing with nets and, in some cases, to stop fishing altogether. Mexican conservationists explained that the offer, first made two years ago, was intended to save a small porpoise that is threatened with extinction as an unintended byproduct of commercial fishing.

Experts said that the porpoise, called a vaquita, is often trapped and killed in the gill nets that fishermen use to catch shrimp, mackerel and sharks. They informed that probably no more than 150 vaquitas survive. The population could fall to 100 in a couple of years. If that occurred, there would be too few sexually mature adults left for the species to recover.

Omar Vidal, the director of the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico and a biologist who has studied the vaquita for 25 years, expressed that the population of vaquita is on the brink. It is said that the Mexican government has spent about $20 million over the last two years on conservation measures, primarily to persuade 800 of the 4,000 registered fishermen in the area to accept its offer to stop using nets or to cease fishing entirely.

The environment minister, Juan Elvira Quesada pointed out that next year the government hopes to spend an additional $13 million to continue the plan. Many fishermen have said to use the money to start businesses. The vaquita, which has dark doe eyes and pale skin, inhabits the shallower waters of the Gulf of California.

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