San Felipe, BC, Mexico – Jan 25, 2023 – Sea Shepherd Conservation Society debuted its new ship Seahorse yesterday in Operation Milagro to protect the Vaquita Porpoise. In Operation Milagro, Sea Shepherd and the Mexican Government protect the Zero Tolerance Area of the Vaquita Refuge by keeping the illegal fishing gear that ensnares the world’s most endangered marine mammal out of the UNESCO-recognized protected zone.
The Mexican Navy is part of the Grupo Intragubernamental sobre la Sustentabilidad en el Alto Golfo de California or GIS; a coalition of Mexican government agencies and departments which works in the ZTA to protect the Vaquita Refuge in coordination with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. They were represented in yesterday’s events Admiral Rubén Alfonso Vargas Suárez and Rear Admiral José Carlos Tinoco Castrejón
The Seahorse arrives at a critical time; data from 2022 indicates that in the past year, Operation Milagro’s joint efforts with the Secretary of the Navy and other government partners reduced the illegal fishing activity that threatens the Vaquita by 72%. This dramatic reduction in the illegal fishing activity responsible for the decline of the vaquita is due to the sustained commitment of Sea Shepherd and the vigilant 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 the partnership between the Government of Mexico and Sea Shepherd is responsible for a 72% reduction in the total hours of illegal fishing, the nets of which are a direct threat to the Vaquita.
The new ship builds on this momentum. Sea Shepherd completed the purchase of Seahorse in August 2022 and, at 150 feet long and 36 feet wide, the Seahorse’s ballast will allow Sea Shepherd to remain vigilant over the Zero Tolerance Area during inclement weather.
“M/V Seahorse is entering Operation Milagro at the perfect time,” Sea Shepherd’s Chairman Pritam Singh said. “Our new ship arrives after a year when our partnership with the Mexican Navy dramatically reduced the threat to the Vaquita, specifically a 72% reduction of illegal fishing activity. This is encouraging news, but we always have to do better. We chose and re-fitted the Seahorse specifically for its design and capacity, both of which will dramatically increase our effectiveness and ability to protect the Vaquita in 2023.”
“As members of the Intergovernmental Group on Sustainability in the Upper Gulf of California, we reaffirm our commitment to fulfill our responsibilities to the protection of the vaquita and the fight against illegal fishing,” said Admiral Rubén Alfonso Vargas Suárez, Commander of the Second Naval Region. “We welcome the vessel Seahorse of the Sea Shepherd Organization, with whom we will continue working jointly in accordance with the Collaboration Agreement.”
Esteban Moctezuma, Mexico’s Ambassador to the US, said “Protecting the Vaquita porpoise is a top priority of the Government of Mexico. We are delighted to herald a new chapter in this joint effort and thank Sea Shepherd for its longstanding partnership.”