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Cocaine of the Sea: Totoaba Fishing Can Lead to Vaquita's Extinction

by Maureen Blas / May 17, 2021 06:32 AM EDT
Cocaine of the Sea: Totoaba Fishing Can Lead to Vaquita’s Extinction

Mexico is the only home for the vaquita marina. However, totoaba fishing, which is considered the "cocaine of the sea" can lead to the vaquita's extinction. 

Vaquita can only be found in Mexico. This critically endangered mammal thrives in the waters of the Sea of Cortéz, which is also known as the Gulf of California or the world's aquarium because of the vast diversity in marine species. 

One precious species that live in this water is the silvery-colored porpoise with eyes similar to a panda. Sadly, the vaquita's days are nearing their end due to the illegal fishing of another endangered species - the totoaba fish. 

Dubbed as "cocaine of the sea," totoaba fish (Totoaba macdonaldi) grows as big as a vaquita. The totoaba used to be a staple before it was listed as an endangered species in Mexico. It's a native fish living in the Gulf of California in Mexico. 

The totoaba is a marketable fish because of its swim bladder mainly used in Chinese delicacy. Totoaba fishing was already prohibited in Mexico in 1975, but because of the value of its swim bladders, illegal fishing has carried on for many years. 

The size of totoaba and vaquita are almost the same. The nets being used to catch totoaba can also catch vaquita, which becomes a by-catch. This can lead to the vaquita's extinction because the porpoise is already dead before it can be released back to the water.

"We used to catch it in the 60s and 70s. Then the Chinese came with their suitcases full of dollars and bought our consciences," remembers Ramón Franco Díaz, president of a fishing federation in the coastal town of San Felipe, on the peninsula of Baja California. 

Based on the Earth League International NGO, 10-year-old dried totoaba swim bladders can fetch $85,000 per kilo in China. The fishermen of San Felipe produce only a small fraction, however, in a poor community, the business has proliferated for the "cocaine of the sea."

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