Mexican fishermen attack Sea Shepherd vessel protecting vaquita

A video posted to YouTube by the environmental group Sea Shepherd shows about two dozen small Mexican fishing boats attacking the group’s vessel in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday.

Men aboard small fishing boats can be seen surrounding the environmental group’s vessel, the Farley Mowat, and throwing glass bottles and other items at it.

The Sea Shepherd group says the Mexican fishermen were fighting against the protection of the vaquita marina, a small porpoise on the world’s most endangered list.

The fishermen threw oars, dead fish, weights, bottles of Tabasco sauce, and at one point can be seen in the video emptying a container of gasoline near the Farley Mowat, as if trying to douse it with gas, according to both the video and a spokeswoman with the Sea Shepherd environmental group.

Sea Shepherd spokeswoman Carolina Castro said no one was injured in the incident “neither the poachers nor our crew,” she said.

In the video, the crew of the Farley Mowat is seen yelling at what they call “angry poachers” to get back and using a hose to blast water at the fishermen in an attempt to repel some of the smaller boats.

Some footage appears to have been originally posted to Facebook by the group of Mexican fishermen. In that video, fisherman can be seen and heard yelling in crude language for the Farley Mowat to leave the remote waters. The man who posted the video did not respond to a Facebook message requesting comment.

The incident took place in the Sea of Cortez, in a vaquita refuge, where fishermen are not allowed to lower gill nets.

The vaquita is facing extinction because of illegally set gill nets used to catch totoaba, a fish considered a delicacy in China that sells for top dollar.

At one point during the incident, the fishermen dropped a gill net in front of the bow of the Sea Shepherd, temporarily immobilizing it while five men illegally boarded the Farley Mowat and began looting, Castro said.

Mexican Navy officials were embedded on the vessel and more forces arrived by air to encourage the Mexican fishing boats to disperse.

No arrests were made.

“Sea Shepherd will not be deterred by violence,” said Captain Paul Watson, the founder of the environmental group. “Our mission is to prevent the extinction of the vaquita porpoise and we will continue to seize the nets of poachers in the Vaquita Refuge. Sea Shepherd salutes the quick responsiveness of the Mexican Navy in defusing a dangerous situation.”

The group says less than 30 vaquitas remain alive in the Gulf, the only place they have ever existed. The marine mammals were discovered in 1958 but are now the world’s most endangered marine mammal mostly because of the difficulty in preventing illegal poaching in the remote Gulf of California.

Sea Shepherd began patrolling the area in 2015 to observe and protest the illegal fishing. Scientists want Mexican environmental authorities to ban possession of nets in the whole area and conduct patrols to enforce the ban.

Currently, authorities patrol by air, but fishermen in high-powered small water crafts often make it to shore and evade enforcement.

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