Chinese Customs Finally Crack Down On Trafficking Parts Of The Totoaba Fish That Threatens The Last 15 Remaining Vaquita Porpoises On Earth

Chinese Customs recently announced the results of its crackdown on the Totoaba Fish Maw smuggling gang in 2018, which resulted in the arrest of 16 gang members and the seizure of approximately 980 pounds of totoaba smim bladders, the equivalent to an estimated $26.4 million dollars. The case is still under investigation, but preliminary findings reveal that the criminal gang, which operated out of multiple Chinese provinces, illegally purchased the totoaba swim bladders in Mexico’s Gulf of California, and smuggled them in luggage through several countries, before arriving in China. This crackdown is one of the most successful cases in combating the smuggling of endangered species.

Zak Smith, Senior Attorney for the Nature Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said in a statement, “The Chinese Government is stepping up to meet its commitment to eradicate the illegal totoaba trade in China. We hope that the Mexican government will implement equally vigorous enforcement efforts to combat totoaba trafficking. We desperately need international cooperation to eliminate trade in tototaba, which is driving the endangered vaquita porpoise, of which there are less than 15 left in the world, to extinction.”


Facing extinction, the totoaba is listed as an Appendix I Species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), meaning international commercial trade of the totoaba fish is prohibited. Endemic to the Gulf of California in Mexico, the totoaba is poached for Chinese cuisine and gifts, under the false assumption that it could treat health problems or provide other benefits. Illegal totoaba fishing in Mexico also threatens the vaquita, a critically endangered porpoise listed under the Endangered Species Act, because vaquita become entangled and then drown in gillnets originally set to capture totoaba. For more information about trilateral efforts between the United States, China and Mexico to eradicate totoaba trafficking and to save the vaquita, read ”China Joins Fight to Save the Vaquita as the Mexican Porpoise Slides Closer to Extinction.”

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