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Episode 24 – Marcela Vásquez-León: The Problem with Protecting the Vaquita

January 2023


Dr. Marcela Vásquez-León is the Director of the Center for Latin American Studies and Professor of Anthropology in the School of Anthropology, University of Arizona. She has conducted research and outreach for over two decades with smallholder agricultural and fishing communities throughout Latin America and the U.S. Southwest. Her focus includes collective organization, common property resources, and rural development. In this episode of the JSW Radio Podcast, we speak with Dr. Vásquez-León about the impact of efforts to protect the endangered vaquita marina on fishing communities in Mexico’s upper Gulf of California. Scientists and international non-profit organizations, working in tandem with the Mexican government, have invested significant intellectual, financial, and human resources in the upper gulf and on the vaquita, which is a small cetacean endemic to the region. Vásquez-León argues, however, that these efforts have resulted in the near total collapse of what was once a robust fisheries economy and, thus far, have produced few demonstrable successes. Her analysis of the situation, based on years of work with local fishing communities, points to the disparities and injustices that so often result from conservation programs that focus on protecting a single species without considering the deeply entangled “natures” and “cultures” that such efforts both affect and produce. Ultimately, it is not an argument against protecting ecologies and environments but rather a push for a view and approach that considers relationships between human and non-human worlds.

Hosted by Jeff Banister; post-production and edition by Carlos Quintero.

Notes and Resources

• More information on the topic:
    · Fishing and Conservation: Conflict in the Gulf of California – Dr. Vásquez-León website on the topic – Spanish version
     · Local LivelihoodsLecture by Dr. Vásquez-León at Tumamoc Hill (Video)
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