Totoaba cartel taken down in Mexico

Totoaba bladders for sale in China.

Seven members of a Mexican-Chinese cartel dealing in fish bladders from the endangered totoaba have been arrested by Mexican authorities.

Seven members of the so-called “Totoaba Cartel” and the leader of the “Cartel of the Sea” have been arrested and imprisoned, according to an announcement made by the Mexican navy at a 3 January press conference.

Those cartels are now defunct, according to Mexican Navy Admiral José Rafael Ojeda Durán, who also said that in the past three years, the navy has carried out over 14,000 boat inspections and over 6,500 vehicle inspections, 31 warehouse inspections, and has confiscated 744 illegal fishing nets and hundreds of kilos of totoaba, whose bladders are believed to have medicinal benefits when consumed, sell for up to USD 46 (EUR 42) per gram in China, or more than the equivalent price of gold

Ojeda Durán said the Mexican government has renewed its efforts to eliminate totoaba fishing in the Northern Gulf of California, where the critically endangered vaquita porpoise has been decimated by illegal totoaba and shrimp fishing. It is estimated fewer than 10 vaquita remain alive. The Mexican navy has taken measures to reimplement a zero-tolerance zone near the town of San Felipe, where the last vaquitas have been spotted.

According to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Mexico has failed to enforce a ban instituted in 2017 on most gillnet fishing in the northern Gulf of California. In 2019, the environmental nonprofit documented the presence of roughly 70 boats illegally fishing in vaquita habitat in just one day. The U.S. has previously expanded vaquita-related Mexican seafood bans for shrimp and other seafood caught in the vaquita’s habitat, but still faces a lawsuit filed by three conservation groups for its refusal to sanction Mexico over its failure to take effective enforcement action against the totoaba trade, in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Earth League International Founder Andrea Crosta has spent years working to investigate the underground networks and supply chains fueling the totoaba trade. She said the recent arrests had an impact on the illicit industry.

“It led to the dismantling of one of the six different totoaba cartels,” Crosta told SBS Dateline.

However, more enforcement is needed, Crosta said ... 

Photo courtesy of Lewis Tse/Shutterstock

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