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The swim bladders of totoaba are considered a delicacy in China.

Chinese Customs dismantles totoaba smuggling network

Click on the flag for more information about China CHINA
Tuesday, January 08, 2019, 02:30 (GMT + 9)

China has strengthened law enforcement efforts to combat the totoaba smuggling, a fish originally from the Gulf of California whose illegal fishing has taken the vaquita marina near extinction.

The totoaba or totuava (Totoaba macdonaldi) is a marine fish, the largest member of the drum family Sciaenidae, that is endemic to the Gulf of California in Mexico

The totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi), also known as white croaker, is an endemic species from the northern Gulf of California or the Sea of Cortez. Due to its overexploitation, its population declined alarmingly until nearing its near extinction, so the Government of Mexico converted it by decree into a protected species.

China Customs recently released the main results of a multi-month operation that dismantled a large smuggling network of totoaba bladders, Xinhua news agency reported.

The operation was described as "one of the most successful in China in the fight against illegal wildlife trade," according to an official statement.

Driven by unrelenting demand in China and Hong Kong for the swim bladder of the giant totoaba fish, illegal fishing has remained rampant in Mexico’s upper Gulf, despite the government’s unprecedented push to ban gillnets from the region.

Customs offices in Jiangmen and Nanning cities in the south of the country carried out the operation called "SY608" in numerous localities in the southern regions of Guangdong and Guangxi, which led to the arrest of 16 involved in one of the main bands of traffickers of totoaba bladders, confiscating 444.3 kilograms of totoaba with an estimated value of CNY 182 million (USD 26.5 million).

Although the investigation is still ongoing, preliminary results show that the band bought the totoaba bladders in Mexico and then transported them through multiple transit points with suitcases before entering China, where they sold them illegally.

The Sea Shepherd organization has worked on campaigns to attack illegal fishing and withdraw driftnets (Photo: Se Sheperd)

"There is only a very small and limited illegal market for totoaba bladders in China, and in the short time since they started appearing on the black market, China has quickly closed open sales and has now dismantled one of the main networks of contraband, "said Steve Blake, senior representative of WildAid, an international charity in China.

"As the enforcement of the law against wildlife trafficking in China has become increasingly effective, we hope to see continued international cooperation in the fight against illegal fishing and transit of these products," he said in a press release.

Activists from Greenpeace East Asia and Greenpeace Mexico hold up fake plastic swim bladders from the totoaba fish, to highlight what they say is a rampant illegal trade in the critically endangered fish which is being conducted by organised crime syndica

Totoaba is a species found only in the Gulf of California of Mexico and was listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 1976, which prohibits any form of International Trade. It was classified in critical danger of extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1996.

The totoaba also shares this same habitat with the smallest porpoise in the world, the vaquita marina. Recent research has warned that there are only a dozen vaquitas left before the species disappears from the planet.

Decades of intensive fishing practices and the recent widespread use of illegal gillnets to fish totoaba have decimated the vaquita population, declining from more than 600 in 1997 to around 30 in 2017.

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