The Chinese government has moved to stop the smuggling of illegal totoaba swim bladders from Mexico.
Chinese Customs announced on Christmas Day that an operation to bring down smuggling rings had led to the arrest of 16 individuals representing one of the main swim bladder trafficking gangs. Chinese authorities confiscated 444.3 kilograms of bladders worth an estimated US $26 million.
Though the investigation is still ongoing, preliminary results show the syndicate would purchase the bladders in Mexico and transport them to China in suitcases.
“For many years China was not aware of the illegal trade in totoaba bladders,” said Peter Knights, CEO of the non-governmental organization WildAid. “But when alerted, they stopped open trade and now they are taking down smuggling rings. Let’s hope their decisive action can help the remaining vaquita porpoises that are literally on the brink of extinction.”
The totoaba is a fish endemic to the upper Gulf of California and has been considered critically endangered since 1996. The totoaba shares the same habitat with the vaquita. Decades of destructive fishing practices and the rampant use of illegal gillnets to poach the totoaba have decimated the vaquita population, with now fewer than 20 individuals estimated to remain.
Earlier this month, an international group of scientists asked the Mexican government to issue a ban on possessing gillnets in the upper Gulf of California, a stronger measure than those introduced until now to save the vaquita porpoise.
Mexico News Daily