Mexican Government Steps In To Help Crucial Conservation Efforts

The government set a restraining order against fishermen who were threatening the conservationists.

Credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

A potentially hostile situation has swiftly been averted after the Mexican government stood firmly with Sea Shepherd on March 30, before confrontation was met with local fishermen. According to recent reports, a restraining order has been issued and ratified against the fishermen by the Attorney General’s office. The occurrence that led to this measure was led by one of San Felipe’s fishing cooperative leaders, as the protesting fishermen held a demonstration on March 26, threatening to burn Sea Shepherd ships if they were still in the Gulf by March 30 at 14:00 hours. Sea Shepherd are situated in the Gulf whilst they carry out vital work for Operation Milagro III, which is working to protect the near extinct vaquita porpoise and the endangered totoaba bass. This campaign is in partnership with the government of Mexico.

As part of the demonstration, the fishermen took the painted Sea Shepherd’s name on a small local fishing boat, known as a “panga”, and proceeded to burn it in the streets of San Felipe. This act was a warning that they would do the same with the anti-poaching organisation’s ships, the M/Y Sam Simon and M/V Farley Mowat, if they did not leave the waters. The demonstration ended when the leader of the fishermen promised to attack the Sea Shepherd crew with 200 pangas on March 30.

At the end of March, when the date of the threat arrived, the Mexican Navy vessels acted as escorts for the Sam Simon and the Farley Mowat in preparation for any such attack. In addition to this, shore police also screened fishing boats before allowing them to enter the sea. No more than 60 pangas managed to assemble in the harbor and none set sail towards Sea Shepherd, meaning that no one was hurt on either side.

A Mexican judge ratified a restraining order to the fisherman and their group leader on April 5, preventing them from speaking, threatening, or harassing the campaign leader and Sam Simon, Captain Oona Layolle and the Sea Shepherd crew aboard the Sam Simon and the Farley Mowat, as well as forbidding the fishermen from going near the ships and land base. Captain Paul Watson said, “Sea Shepherd very much appreciated the effective measures taken by the Mexican government to quell what was potentially a very explosive and violent situation.”

The illegal poachers who set the banned gillnets that trap the vaquita, totoaba and other marine animals are said to be angry that Sea Shepherd is now working with the government to remove the nets and the animals caught in them. The totoaba bladders are sold in China for $20,000 a kilo, which is a price that attracts individuals that are involved in organized crime and drug smuggling. Due to the illegal fishing, vaquita numbers have dramatically decreased to less than 30, meaning that the world’s tiniest porpoise is currently on the brink of extinction.

The poachers animosity is only intensified by the fact that Sea Shepherd uses drones to locate any illegal fishing activity, and gives this information to the Mexican authorities. Captain Layolle commented, “Sea Shepherd is not in the area to oppose legal fishing activities. Sea Shepherd’s actions are focused on illegal fishing and the only fishermen who have any reason to be angry with the Sea Shepherd ships are those whose illegal activities are being disrupted and shut down by Sea Shepherd crews.”

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