French Guiana tightening grip on sale of “aquatic cocaine”

Dubbed “the cocaine of the sea”, swim bladders of the red acoupa fish, a commercially important species found around South America, are increasingly featuring in prosecution cases brought by French Guianese legal authorities.

At the end of last year, a Brazilian businessman and a Guyanese businesswoman working for an organization in Suriname were both given six-month suspended prison sentences for what the French Guianese authorities described as “concealed work.”

According to the Guyane 1 channel of France TV Info website, government prosecutor Emmanuel Ferrand said the two accused were caught with 189 kilograms of wet bladders, 68 kilograms of dry bladders in the possession of the Brazilian, and 65 kilograms [in the possession of the Guyanese woman] for the Surinamese network.”

 In a separate incident, 400 kilograms of red acoupa swim bladders were seized at a roadblock on 4 August, in a vehicle headed for Brazil.

The report states that the swim bladders are sold by seagoing fishers for EUR 100 (USD 122) per kilo or more, and can be resold for as much as USD 15,000 (EUR 12,300) per kilo in Asia, where they are highly prized.

The France TV Info report noted that the sale of swim bladders has long been considered a marginal activity by the authorities, with no strict enforcement of rules regarding declaration of it for tax purposes. However, the market for swim bladders has taken off in recent years and the authorities are now requiring that buyers declare their purchases “so that this supplementary income of fishers becomes official and can be entered into the accounts of ship owners.”

French Guianese ship owners are reportedly perturbed by developments and claim their workers no longer wish to go out to sea. 

“Fishermen do not earn much,” one ship owner told France TV Info. “The tonnage of fish caught is not in great quantity as before. They have need of this supplementary income to assure themselves a decent salary.”


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