Secretary Jewell, Secretary Pacchiano Highlight U.S.-Mexico Cooperative Efforts in Protection of Wildlife

International efforts critical in fight to save endangered totoaba & vaquita; improving, conserving habitat for monarch butterfly


Last edited 09/29/2021

Date: November 12, 2015
Contact: Jessica Kershaw,

WASHINGTON – On the heels of the public release of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, which includes the strongest commitments on the environment of any trade agreement in history, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell joined Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Ministry Rafael Pacchiano to highlight key international efforts between the United States and Mexico to protect, conserve and save the countries’ endemic wildlife. 

Secretary Jewell joined Secretary Pacchiano at Mexico’s Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary to spotlight environmental and cooperative wildlife management on the endangered totoaba and vaquita and the beloved monarch butterfly. Both totoaba and vaquita are CITES-listed species, afforded the highest level of international protection, including prohibiting international commercial trade.  

“The United States and Mexico have a long and rich history of cooperation for the protection and conservation of our unique natural resources,” said Secretary Jewell. “As our understanding of the environmental challenges has improved, our cooperation has grown, recognizing that environmental policy is more effective when we work together on both sides of the border. What Mexico and the U.S. can do to save the monarch butterfly – as well as other creatures that are at risk of extinction, like the vaquita and the totoaba – is a conservation priority for our nations and one of the reasons we are meeting in Mexico today.”

The tiny vaquita porpoise of the northern Gulf of California, Mexico, is the world's most endangered cetacean species, with likely fewer than 100 remaining, according to the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita. Vaquitas die from entanglement in gillnets used to catch shrimp and finfish in legal fisheries, which serve markets in the United States. To complicate matters for the vaquita, there has been resurgence in illegal fishing for totoaba, a large, endangered fish species also endemic to the northern Gulf of California. This illegal fishery, fueled by the high price and demand in Chinese markets for the large and highly sought-after totoaba swim bladders, uses large-mesh gillnets, which are exceptionally lethal for vaquitas. 

Law enforcement authorities in the U.S. and Mexico have been cooperating on border enforcement efforts to combat the illegal trade in totoaba, considered to be responsible for decline in vaquita. 

Today, Jewell and Pacchiano pointed to four key areas where they will continue to strengthen international collaboration for these species, including the use of observing assets; coordinated inspection and surveillance; capacity building and technical assistance to combat the illegal trade of totoaba swim bladders; and a better understanding of the key markets for totoaba. These efforts are complemented by the Mexican government earlier this year announcing a two-year emergency ban on gillnets and long lines throughout the vaquita habitat as well as an enlargement of 11 times the protected area to cover 100 percent of the area of distribution of vaquita and research on new fishing gears that will not be harmful to the species. 

At the bilateral level, through the support of the U.S. via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency assisted in diagnosing the size of the population of vaquita. This survey started on September 2015 and will continue until December 3, using ship-based visual monitoring of the species and an expanded grid of acoustic detectors throughout the vaquita’s habitat, with the collaboration of researchers of Southwest Fisheries Science Center from the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Mexican National Institute for Ecology and Climate Change. 

Regarding monarch butterflies, Jewell and Pacchiano highlighted the significant decline of the charismatic micro fauna across North America as an indicator of the habitat losses and stresses all pollinators are facing. They also noted that while there has been a recent increase in monarch butterflies reaching Mexico for their ritual overwintering period, more work remains to secure the population and conserve its habitat. Due to the complexity of this migratory phenomenon, as well as its geographical extension, butterflies depend on particular ecological and meteorological conditions in the wide variety of habitats along migratory corridors in the U.S., Mexico and Canada that sustain feeding, reproduction, and hibernation functions throughout the year. 

Jewell and Pacchiano also reiterated a shared commitment to the recently formed Tri-national Working Group between the U.S., Mexico and Canada to ensure the conservation of the monarch butterfly, as well as to promote a Tri-lateral communication strategy to increase awareness of the actions that can be taken across the monarch’s entire annual cycle to preserve the migratory phenomenon. 

Jewell underscored that the U.S. is leveraging the monarch as a flagship species for pollinator conservation, pointing to two of the three high-level goals in the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators (National Pollinator Strategy, May 2015) to demonstrate U.S. commitments to habitat conservation and health including:

  • Increasing the Eastern monarch population to 225 million butterflies occupying an area of approximately 15 acres (6 hectares) in the Mexican overwintering grounds by 2020; and
  • Restoring or enhancing 7 million acres of pollinator habitat over the next 5 years through federal actions and public/private partnerships.

Plans are underway for the first meeting of the Tri-national Monarch Science Partnership in February 2016 in Mexico. The meeting would be convened in conjunction with stakeholder meetings and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leadership delegation visit to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. The three countries are also coordinating on a proposal to showcase North American Monarch conservation efforts at the 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress.

Jewell joined Secretary Pacchiano ahead of the 2015 Ministerial Summit of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), a tri-yearly event, co-chaired by China, the European Commission, South Africa and the United States. The Ministerial, for which Jewell is leading the U.S. delegation and the government of Mexico is hosting, will focus on top priorities including addressing challenges of agriculture, biodiversity, climate, disasters, ecosystems, energy, health, water and weather. 

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