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Fishermen Return To Sea Of Cortez In Banned Vaquita Area To Demand Government Attention

Protesting what they call the government’s unkept promises, fishermen returned to the Sea of Cortez last weekend to an area where they have been banned for years in an effort to protect a small, endangered porpoise.They say they plan to keep fishing until the government responds.

Fishermen’s nets have been banned in the uppermost part of the Sea of Cortez since 2015 to protect the nearly extinct vaquita marina porpoise. A new report says there are likely only 10 vaquitas left.

But local fishermen say the the Mexican government hasn’t paid them promised compensation to stay out of the water in four months.

"Four months without receiving even a peso, well it's really hard for the community, for the economic situations in our homes," said Lorenzo Garcia, president of the largest fishermen’s federation in San Felipe, Baja California.

So nearly 800 small boats, or pangas, went back to the sea in protest starting Saturday to fish for Chano.

Garcias said fishermen want the vaquita to survive, but not at the cost of their families going hungry.

"It's a really, really difficult situation," he said. "If anyone is worried about protecting the vaquita it's us. You can see that, we've been out of the water for four years."

He added that though they have returned to areas where nets have been banned, they are respecting a vaquita refuge area outlined in 2005, or at least that was the agreement fishermen made when they decided to go back to the water.

"Out plan isn't to stay in sea," Garcia said. "Our plan is to get the government to listen and to bring us a solution to this problem."

The fishermen met briefly with Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was visiting the border town of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora on Tuesday, Garcia said.

“It seems like he heard us and they’re going to bring us a solution soon. So we expect a response in the next week," he said.

But until there is new agreement, the fishermen will continue to take their boat and nets out into the water.

Kendal Blust was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2018 to 2023.