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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Heading for Extinction

Heading for Extinction

                          Gulf of California vaquita (credit: Greenpeace)

Defined by the fishing industry, bycatch is any species unintentionally caught while harvesting other fish. In previous decades it meant the snaring of dolphins by tuna nets but has come to mean any non-target species including sea turtles, sharks, and even sea birds. Bycatch contributes to declining fisheries and the deaths of the unintentional species.

Bycatch could now cause the extinction of the smallest marine mammal in the world, the vaquita, endemic to Baja's Gulf of California, the famous Sea of Cortez to marine biologists. If so, this will be due in large part to criminal gangs selling a dried fish to China and the diminutive porpoise is the bycatch.


                              Gulf of California Porpoise, the vaquita and range  (credit: NOAA)

Previous reports highlighted the decline in the tiny vaquita due to illegal drug gangs and fishermen who smuggle the dried totoaba to China. The fish's bladder is added to a soup because it is thought to have medicinal properties. Their numbers may now be less that 50 vaquitas remaining in the wild.
It may be too late to prevent yet another animal from joining the dodo on the long list of extinct species.

It's hard to know where to start and change this sad picture: provide the fisherman with improved fishing nets and other gear to reduce bycatch; search and destroy the criminal sumuggling networks; develop aquaculture to produce a sustainable supply of the totoaba; or demand Chinese restaurants stop serving a dubious soup. Perhaps, all of the above. WHB

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