Mexico, LDF, and the Carlos Slim Foundation Sign MOU to Protect Critically Endangered Vaquita

Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”)
the United Mexican States
The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and
the Carlos Slim Foundation

(individually described hereafter as “Party” and collectively described hereafter as the “Parties”)

Section I – Preamble

WHEREAS, the government of the United Mexican States (“Mexico”), particularly the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), the Naval Secretariat (SEMAR), the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, and the Carlos Slim Foundation have a common interest in the conservation of Mexico’s marine resources;

WHEREAS, the Parties recognize the importance of marine ecosystems and the sustainable use of marine resources for their economic, environmental, cultural, and historical benefits, and acknowledge the urgency of a collaborative effort to preserve endangered species, specifically the vaquita (Phocoena sinus);

ACKNOWLEDGING, that the population and communities of the upper Gulf of California have lived for generations from fishing in the area, which is their principal livelihood;

WHEREAS, the vaquita is a marine mammal located in the upper Gulf of California threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, illegal fishing (especially for the totoaba), and the transnational illegal wildlife trade;

WHEREAS, on June 10, 1993, the President of the United States of Mexico issued the Decree declaring the protected natural area, and biosphere reserve, the region known as the Upper Gulf of California and the Colorado River Delta, located in the waters of the Gulf of California and the municipalities of Mexicali, in the State of Baja California, Puerto Peñasco and San Luis Río Colorado, in the State of Sonora.

WHEREAS, on July 14, 2005, the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) registered the Biosphere Reserve of the Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Delta as a World Heritage site.

WHEREAS, since 2015  the use of gillnets in fisheries participating in the habitat of the vaquita in the upper Gulf of California was banned, financial compensation to affected fishermen was provided, and the Interinstitutional Working Committee (COI) was created under SEMAR’s leadership to enforce the law and to combat illegal fishing and the trafficking of protected species;[1]

WHEREAS, the presidents of Mexico and the United States of America, on July 22, 2016, committed to increased bilateral cooperation to protect the vaquita through the following actions: 1) issuing a permanent ban on the use of gillnets in all fisheries within the range of the vaquita; 2) increasing enforcement efforts to halt the illegal fishing for and trade in totoaba swim bladders; 3) developing alternative fishing gears that do not entangle the vaquita; and 4) removing and disposing of illegal and derelict fishing gear from vaquita habitat;[2]

WHEREAS, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (“LDF”) is a non-profit corporation in the United States of America dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants. In its role, LDF supports innovative projects that protect vulnerable wildlife from extinction while restoring balance to threatened ecosystems and communities through collaborative partnerships;

WHEREAS, the Carlos Slim Foundation is a non-profit corporation in Mexico that focuses on developing programs to bring social and individual progress for the most vulnerable populations of Mexico and Latin America and is environmentally committed to work on and support the conservation of iconic species of Mexico through strategic partnerships, scientific research, philanthropic events, and educational awareness;

WHEREAS, other jurisdictions may be helpful in the implementation of this MOU, the Parties will engage with additional relevant and interested stakeholders, including, but not limited to, the State of California and the People’s Republic of China;

WHEREAS, the organizations listed below wish to express their support for, and offer their assistance to implement, the commitments set forth in this MOU;

WHEREAS, the Parties acknowledge their will to entering this MOU in furtherance of a continuing and cooperative relationship to conserve the remaining vaquita population.

NOW THEREFORE, this MOU sets out the understanding of the Parties as follows:

Section II – Objectives of the MOU

  • Convert the temporary ban on gillnets to a permanent ban covering all gillnet fisheries throughout the range of the vaquita in the upper Gulf of California.[3] 
  • Within thirty (30) days of signing this MOU, increase enforcement capacity and effectiveness to prevent the illegal use of gillnets by:

    1. Outlining and implementing a plan describing methods to improve enforcement efforts and increasing prosecution of totoaba poaching, and increase the effectiveness of prosecution of totoaba poaching.
    2. Prohibiting night time fishing activity in the upper Gulf of California and the Vaquita Reserve by formally incorporating into law (Norma).
    3. Implementing and enforcing limited entry and exit points for all fishing activity through certified inspectors.
    4. Contribute to establishing and financing the use of vessel monitoring systems for all vessels fishing within the range of the vaquita.
  • Invest in and implement an integral, permanent program to remove and dispose of illegal and derelict fishing gear from vaquita habitat in the upper Gulf of California.
  • Create a task force with the goal of developing and implementing a sustainable communities plan for Golfo de Santa Clara and San Felipe that effectively engages local communities to design a future that promotes community and sustainable development efforts, including a transition to sustainable fishing practices.
  • Accelerate and streamline efforts to develop alternative fishing gear that does not result in the entanglement of vaquita, and establish “vaquita-safe” fisheries.
  • Provide sanctuary to the remaining vaquita, which may include the creation of a captive breeding program in sea-based pens.
  • Establish an international expert advisory committee to provide input on all objectives of this MOU and help ensure positive outcomes to ensure the threats to the existence of the vaquita are permanently eliminated.

Section III – Operational Guidelines to Conduct this MOU 

  • The Parties will form a working group to conduct the activities under this MOU. Within 30 days of signing, each Party will prepare a draft strategy outlining its contributions to the objectives described herein, including mechanisms to finance them.
  • To the extent that Mexico determines that a captive breeding program is necessary, the Parties will research and assess potential implementation and funding needs. The Parties will make a determination within 30 days regarding the feasibility of such a program.

Section IV – Legal Nature

The present MOU is not intended to create legally binding obligations or rights for Participants in the field of international law and is only a manifestation of willingness to cooperate in the areas and modalities established in this MoU, insofar as its human, material and financial resources will allow.

Section V – Consultation 

The Participants shall seek to consult on any matter related to the application or interpretation of this MOU.

Section VI – Term, Termination, and Amendments 

  • This MOU is made effective as of the date of the last signature (“Effective Date”).
  • This MOU commences as of the Effective Date and continues for a term of five years which automatically renews, unless earlier terminated in accordance with the provisions hereof.
  • Any amendment to this MOU requires the written consent of all Parties.
  • Any Party may terminate this MOU for any reason by providing 30 days’ prior, written notification to the other two Parties.
  • The termination of this MOU shall not affect the conclusion of cooperation activities that have been formalized during their validity.

Section VII – Governing Law 

This MOU shall be governed by, and interpreted in accordance with the laws of Mexico.

Section VIII – Counterparts 

This MOU may be signed in counterparts, each of which may be deemed an original, and all of which together constitute one and the same agreement.

Section IX – Sever ability

Each of the terms or conditions of this MOU is severable from the others. Notwithstanding any possible future finding by a duly constituted authority that a particular term or provision is invalid, void, or unenforceable, this MOU has been made with the clear intention that the validity and enforceability of the remaining parts, terms, and provisions shall not be affected thereby.

Section X – Notices 

All notices, requests, formal demands, and other communications required or provided for in this MOU shall be given in writing to a signatory at the address set forth below, or at such other address as the signatories shall designate for itself in writing, and shall be delivered by hand or reputable overnight courier or via email. These points of contact can be changed at any time by written notification to the other signatories.

Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales

Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación

Secretaría de Marina 

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation

Office of the Carlos Slim Foundation

Section XI – Signatures 

The duly authorized representatives of the signatories hereby sign this Memorandum of Understanding:

Signed for and on behalf of the United Mexican States

Enrique Peña Nieto


Rafael Pacchiano Alamán

Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources

José Eduardo Calzada Rovirosa

Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food 

Admiral Vidal Francisco Soberón Sáenz

Secretary of the Navy

Signed for and on behalf of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation

Leonardo DiCaprio

Signed for and on behalf of the Carlos Slim Foundation

Carlos Slim

Section XII – Organizations in Support of this MOU

The Marisla Foundation

World Wildlife Fund

Pronatura Noroeste AC

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society




Last updated June 30, 2017

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