I have had a number of emails from people wondering about the number of dead sea birds washing up on the beaches around San Felipe. This has been a problem in previous years and it is becoming a big problem again. Most of the deaths are caused by the birds diving to steal the fish caught in the gill nets that are used by fishermen in the northern Gulf. The birds get caught in the nets and drown. They are discarded by the fishermen and the bodies wash up on the shore driven by the prevailing easterly winds.
The birds, many of which will be the blue-footed Boobies, are not endangered but the major kills are a very bad sign for San Felipe. Gill net fishing has been prohibited for some time but it is still widely used and is causing havoc with other species.
Gill nets are being used to illegally catch the giant Totoaba (totuava – sometimes euphemistically referred to as “white sea-bass” in restaurants) whose swim bladder may be worth $10,000 dollars on the Chinese market. Other fish trapped in the nets are almost considered “bycatch”. Penalties for catching totoaba are very severe because of their endangered status and the result is that reporting the inadvertent catch of such a fish is not possible.
It is believed that many gill nets are now being used in the prohibited zone set aside to protect the critically endangered Vaquita porpoise. Less than 25 breeding females of this species are thought to exist and the northern Gulf of California is their only known habitat.