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Sea Shepherd’s nine-year partnership with the Mexican Navy to protect the Vaquita Porpoise is having a measurable effect on the world’s most endangered marine mammal’s chances for survival.

The above graphic reflects that the average hours per day of illegal fishing activity in the Vaquita Refuge’s Zero Tolerance Area has been reduced by 72%. This dramatic reduction in the illegal fishing activity responsible for the decline of the vaquita is due to the vigilance of Sea Shepherd and the enforcement of the Mexican Navy.

From October 10 to December 5 in 2021, Sea Shepherd crews observed a total of 449 hours of illegal fishing activity in the Zero Tolerance Area of the Vaquita Refuge (defined as the number of fishing vessels multiplied by the time they spent in the ZTA) with a daily average of 26.41 hours of illegal fishing activity every day being confirmed and responded to in the ZTA.

During that same period of time in 2022, a total of 164 hours of illegal activity was detected with a daily average of 7.45 hours of illegal fishing in the ZTA.

This means that in the past year of Operation Milagro, our presence in the region and our partnership with the Government of Mexico is responsible for a 72% reduction in the total hours of illegal fishing, the nets of which are a direct threat to the Vaquita. Sea Shepherd will not rest until this number reaches a 100% reduction, and the Vaquita population can thrive in the refuge with no risk of deadly entanglement in illegal fishing gear.

“A 72% reduction in illegal fishing activity is significant progress in the fight to protect the Vaquita, but we have to do better,” Sea Shepherd’s Chairman Pritam Singh said. “Every year, Operation Milagro adapts and improves. This year, we instituted a whole new reporting protocol with the Mexican Navy, purchased and re-fit a new ship which will increase our capacity to protect the ZTA, and started Operation MIlagro IX earlier than any other year. This data shows a clear reduction in the IUU that threatens the Vaquita, and now our job is to build on that success.”

The Methodology:

SSCS collects data on illegal activity and the presence of fishing vessels in the Vaquita refuge and the ZTA. In 2021, the fishing vessels counting started with the Vaquita survey. Professional observers took pictures of the radar display three or four times a day. In November and December, biologists on board the Sharpie and Farley, made hourly counts using the radar, binoculars and visual observations. For the year 2022, a dedicated biologist made hourly counts of fishing vessels by using the radar, binoculars and visual observations. The media crew member, officers and biologists worked together to identify the type of fishery in each individual case. Those that were not able to be categorized were considered potential net fishing vessels. The ones confirmed to be divers for clam are differentiated in the graphs. Operations were dependent on weather conditions. Therefore, days without data are blank in the graph. In both graphs, the maximum number of fishing vessels and the average per hour per day differences between 2021 and 2022 are evident.

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