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Keywords:

  • Gulf of California porpoise;
  • Phocoena sinus;
  • bycatch;
  • conservation plan;
  • Bayesian population model;
  • marine protected area;
  • critically endangered species

Abstract

Bycatch in artisanal gill nets threatens the vaquita, Phocoena sinus, with extinction. In 2008 the Mexican government announced a conservation action plan for this porpoise, with three options for a protected area closed to gill net fishing. The probability of success of each of the three options was estimated with a Bayesian population model, where success was defined as an increase in vaquita abundance after 10 yr. The model was fitted to data on abundance, bycatch, and fishing effort, although data were sparse and imprecise. Under the first protected area option, the existing Refuge Area for the Protection of the Vaquita, bycatch was about 7% of population size, and probability of success was 0.08. Under the second option with a larger protected area, the probability of success was 0.35. The third option was large enough to eliminate vaquita bycatch and had a probability of success >0.99. Probability of success was reduced if elimination of vaquita bycatch was delayed or incomplete. Despite considerable efforts by the Mexican government to support vaquita conservation, abundance will probably continue to decline unless additional measures to reduce vaquita bycatch are taken, such as banning gill nets within the vaquita's range and developing effective alternative fishing gear.