Federal Police have seized an illegal shipment of sea cucumbers at the Cancún International Airport that is believed to be the largest ever at 17 tonnes.
Police became suspicious about the two truckloads of cargo, called in officials from the National Fisheries Commission and determined that the shipment’s paperwork was not authentic.
Three people were taken into custody.
Sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy in many Asian countries, where it can fetch as much as US $500 a kilo, making the seized shipment worth some $8.5 million in Japan, Korea or China. Authorities pegged its value in Mexico at $850,000.
Over-fishing has threatened the species with extinction although it is still fished in Mexico, albeit with controls that were introduced in 1996.
Before the regulations, a fisherman could fill a boat with a tonne in about three hours and earn far more than those fishing other species, such as lobster. In 2000, the latter would earn the fisherman US $150 in a day. They could earn double that amount by fishing sea cucumbers instead.
What ensued was a gold rush.
More recently the fishery has generated territorial battles on the high seas between fishermen; the high prices have led to trafficking in cukes rather than drugs, and piracy. “If we weren’t here, they’d kill each other,” said a Navy official based in Campeche of the cucumber gangs last fall.
The cucumbers in this week’s seizure came from the municipality of Dzilam de Bravo, Yucatán.
A sea cucumber fisheries management plan for the Yucatán Peninsula went into effect last week. It is the first such plan ever developed and is intended to promote better fishing practices, combat illegal fishing, ensure quality of the product and establish marketing strategies.