Rep. Huffman Letter Calling on DOI to Save Vaquita
Dear Secretary Haaland and Director Williams:
We write to urge you to take swift action to prevent the extinction of the vaquita porpoise. The vaquita is endemic to the upper Gulf of California, Mexico. With fewer than ten vaquita estimated remaining in the world, the vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal on the planet and faces imminent extinction unless we take immediate, drastic, and robust action. For the United States, those actions include certifying Mexico pursuant to the Pelly Amendment.
The certification of Mexico will directly target the sole threat to vaquita survival — the use of gillnets in and adjacent to the vaquita’s habitat — and compel the Mexican government to take the kind of forceful actions necessary to save the species. For decades, vaquita have become entangled and drowned in gillnets used by fisheries, leading vaquita experts to repeatedly conclude that the use of such nets in the Upper Gulf is incompatible with vaquita survival.
While the Mexican government has banned the use of gillnets in all fisheries throughout the range of the vaquita, the Mexican government has utterly failed to enforce its law. Particularly, Mexico has failed to halt the illegal gillnet fishery targeting the totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder is in high demand primarily in China. Vaquita bycatch in totoaba gillnets is the vaquita’s most critical threat. Mexico has also failed to control the trafficking in totoaba bladders, which is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) — and CITES requires that Mexico enforce this ban.
In light of the above, we urge you to take swift action responding to a 2014 petition to certify Mexico under the Pelly Amendment. Under the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act of 1967 (22 U.S.C. § 1978), when the Secretary of the Interior determines that “nationals of a foreign country, directly or indirectly, are engaging in trade or taking that diminishes the effectiveness of any international program to protect endangered or threatened species,” they “shall certify such fact to the President.” The President may then act to “prohibit…the importation into the United States of any products from the offending country.” Despite years of promises, Mexico has failed to adequately address the illegal fishing and trade of totoaba, diminishing the effectiveness of CITES, which is critical to U.S. interests in combatting wildlife crime.
Congress enacted the Pelly Amendment to provide tools to respond to precisely this type of situation. Considering the vaquita’s status, the threats it faces, and Mexico’s failure to protect the species, immediate action is necessary from the U.S. government, and it is entirely unacceptable that the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have not responded to the request for certification for eight years. We urge you to swiftly comply with the Pelly Amendment by certifying Mexico for undermining the effectiveness of CITES and recommend to President Biden that he impose strict trade sanctions, including banning fish and wildlife products from Mexico, until it stops the illegal take and trade in totoaba and the vaquita population demonstrates meaningful recovery.
We believe these actions will further the policy goals of the Pelly Amendment and leverage the power of the U.S. market to help save the vaquita from extinction. Recent studies have shown that the remaining vaquita are healthy, have successfully borne calves, and have a low risk of genetic inbreeding1. Despite its low numbers, the vaquita can recover, but only if bycatch mortality is immediately halted. Action by the
U.S. government to address this situation is needed now, before it is too late.
Thank you for your immediate attention and prompt response to our request.
Reps. Jared Huffman (CA-02), Peter A. DeFazio (OR-04), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), Thomas R. Suozzi (NY-03), Alan S. Lowenthal (CA-47), Ted W. Lieu (CA-33), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Jerry McNerney (CA-09), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Melanie Stansbury (NM-01), Ro Khanna (CA-17), J. Luis Correa (CA-46), Joe Neguse (CO-02), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04), Grace Meng (NY-06), Mark Takano (CA-41), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09).