The smuggling of illicit goods, in particular fish the Totoaba that is as lucrative and much less dangerous in terms of penal sanction than the traffic of cocaine. In 2018, according to an article published in The Guardian, the Mexico City police found 416 swim bladders in the suitcases of a Chinese tourist. The man was arrested and later released after paying a $600 fine.

The Totoaba is a protected endemic species. While scientists believe it to be a cultural fantasy, Chinese medicine believes it to have various medicinal and cosmetic properties, allegedly due to the protein contained in the fish’s swim bladder.

According to a study made by ADM Capital Foundation, a philanthropic group, three quarters of sales of products from endangered wildlife are destined for the traditional Chinese medicine industry.

Because of this Chinese market, the Totoaba is on the verge of extinction, with only a few specimens left in the waters of the Gulf of California. It is this scarcity that is driving up prices, to the point of calling it the cocaine of the seas as sales prices soar from $20,000 to $80,000 per kg.

In its downfall, the Totoaba is bringing with it the disappearance of the smallest harbour porpoise, also known as the little cow of the Pacific Vaquitas. In fact, this could be seen as collateral damage, taking into account the entrapment in the illegal fishing nets used by Totoaba fishermen in the Sea of Cortes.

Totoaba and Vaquitas
Factfile on the Totoaba and Vaquitas

The international community and important personalities such as Leonardo Dicaprio are standing up to try to save what can still be saved, even if today the hope of avoiding the extinction of these two species seems very complicated.

In July 2020, the release of the film “Sea of Shadows” directed by Richard Ladkani, highlights the war waged by environmental activists alongside the Mexican Navy against the Mexican cartels and the Chinese mafia.

Finally, If this decline continues, it is likely to be extinguished in 2021.

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