Sixteen people were arrested in China last Friday for illegally trafficking swim bladders from a large, endangered fish called the totoaba.
The bladders sell for thousands of dollars on China’s black market. But the nets used to catch the totoaba fish in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez are considered the leading threat to the vaquita marina, the world’s smallest and most endangered marine mammal.
“It’s a big deal because it’s the first time they’ve really gone after people for the smuggling in China,” said Peter Knights, CEO of WildAid, a conservation organization based in San Francisco.
He says the arrests in China are part of a growing effort to drive down demand for totoaba poaching.
“If you can’t address the demand end you’re never really going to make much progress,” he said. “Hopefully it is going to make people a little more cautious about buying or smuggling it. I mean, you need to work both ends at the same time, demand and enforcement in Mexico.”
But with fewer than 30 vaquitas left, he said the crackdown on smugglers in China might be too late save the small porpoise from extinction.