Thursday, 18 May 2017

Chinese appetite for totoaba fish bladder kills off rare porpoise




Only 30 vaquita are left in Gulf of California as pirate fishermen net them when fishing for highly valued totoaba maws

Damian Carrington Environment editor

Tuesday 16 May 2017 11.05 BST First published on Tuesday 16 May 2017 06.01 BST 

The world’s rarest marine mammal is on the verge of extinction due to the continuing illegal demand in China for a valuable fish organ, an undercover investigation has revealed.

There are no more than 30 vaquita – a five-foot porpoise – left in the northern Gulf of California today and they could be extinct within months, conservationists have warned. The population has been all but eradicated by pirate fishermen catching the large totoaba fish and killing the vaquita in the process.

The totoaba, which is itself highly endangered, is caught for its swim bladders which are smuggled to China for sale on the black market. Undercover investigators found the swim bladders, called maws, for sale in Shantou in Guandong province, at an average price of $20,000 per kilogram. The cost has led to the maws being dubbed “aquatic cocaine”.

 “The demand is still strong and stable – it is not going down – and prices are climbing again,” said Andrea Crosta, from the Elephant Action League, an intelligence-led group now targeting all wildlife crime and which conducted the totoaba investigation

“Because it is very expensive, it remains a product for wealthy people,” he said. “The law enforcement is very weak because it is not top priority and probably because it involves rich and powerful people.”

One trader in the illegal maws told the investigators: “When the government comes to check, they call and inform us earlier and we will hide them when they come.” However, the trade is less open than it once was. Chinese buyers of maws prefer those from domestic waters but these are exceedingly rare now, having been intensively fished for many decades.

The demand for totoaba maws is driven by its use as a business gift, investment or wedding dowry, as well as its supposed medicinal benefits, the investigation found.


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