Totoaba smuggling ring busted as China seizes swim bladders worth US$26 million

The Chinese government has moved to stop the smuggling of illegal totoaba swim bladders from Mexico. Officials said that they arrested 16 members of the principal smuggling gang. 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. Totoaba swim bladders are known as the “cocaine of the sea” due to the fact that they are more expensive by the ounce that both cocaine and gold!

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 worlds smallest cetacean, 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 12 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 issue, a stronger measure than those introduced until now to save the vaquita porpoise.