Second Largest Seizure Of Endangered Totoaba Fish Swim Bladders Discovered In San Luis Port, Arizona

Photo credit: Richard Herrmann/Minden Pictures

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and agriculture specialists at the Port of San Luis seized 109 pounds of protected totoaba swim bladders with an estimated value of $910,000 – $1,365,000.

For the second time this year, CBP officers and agriculture specialists discovered 91 swim bladders of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) endangered totoaba fish which were concealed within a commercial shipment of frozen fish fillets.

A previous seizure at the Nogales trade facility was made in April of this year. CBP contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) which took possession of the bladders. Preliminary DNA testing by USFWS indicates that the bladders are likely the endangered Totoaba macdonaldi, which is endemic to the Gulf of California in Mexico. This seizure is one of the larger commercial seizures of its kind in the U.S., and the second largest totoaba seizure in Arizona, to date.

Totoaba fish have been listed as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1979. The swim bladders of this species and other similar species worldwide are prized in traditional Chinese medicine and as an Asian cultural delicacy. Because the species is federally protected, in both the U.S. and Mexico, it is illegal to take, possess, transport, or sell totoaba.

In addition, the gill-net fishing methods used to catch totoaba have resulted in the co-demise of another species in the Gulf of California, the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. Sadly, only as few as 10 remain in the world.

USFWS and Homeland Security Investigations are investigating the smuggling attempt of this protected species.

“Our officers and agriculture specialists enforce a wide variety of laws on behalf of numerous agencies,” said Guadalupe Ramirez, Tucson Field Director of Operations. “This is the second largest seizure of totoaba swim bladders in Arizona this year and is an exceptional example of the job CBP Officers and Agriculture Specialists do to enforce laws regarding all commodities entering the United States.”

“This seizure also continues to highlight the integral working relationship we have with our U.S. Fish and Wildlife partners, enforcing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species treaty agreement,” continued Ramirez.

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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