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Media 111317 Loret de Mola

Monday, November 13, 2017

On Mexico's Endangered Vaquita Porpoise, Corruption and Crime

By Carlos Loret de Mola A. (

The first time I heard about the vaquita porpoise I thought it was a purely environmental issue. After spending several weekends in San Felipe, Golfo de Santa Clara, Mexicali, Tijuana and Ensenada (all within the area of ​​influence of the topic), I know it's a portrait on a scale of all of Mexico's problems: organized crime, corruption, poverty, political conflicts….

Vaquitas are endangered and they only exist in Mexico. There are less than 30. They have been killed mainly because they are trapped in the nets of totoaba fishermen. Totoaba, a fish measuring the same as the vaquita.

Totoaba fishing is prohibited but many people do so. It turns out that the Chinese think the "buche" (swim bladder) of the totoaba is an aphrodisiac, and on the black market they can pay up to US$100,000 apiece. Of that money, some US$4,000 will reach the fishermen. Compare this with the US$25 they receive per kilo of shrimp.

The illegal market of swim bladders, according to information from federal intelligence, has been linked with that of the drug [market]: they share trafficking routes and corruption. Sometimes by land to Mexicali or Tijuana, and from there to Chinese communities in the USA and then to China itself; or through Mexico City by air or Manzanillo by boat to reach Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing. Apparently, leaders of fishermen in the communities of San Felipe and Golfo de Santa Clara are coordinated with representatives of the Chinese mafia in Mexico to move the merchandise.

To prevent illegal totoaba fishing, about three years ago the federal government banned all fishing in the area. To try to calm the anger of fishermen, they were asked how much they earned and they are given that money monthly.

But anger continues. Many fishermen complain that leaders named by the government to distribute these compensations are people who do not fish. That has led to problems of ungovernability in the area and protests that have turned violent.

Illegal fishing also continues: there are those who go by the system, and those who, seeing an opportunity, do not reject extra money. As usual, many just want to fish lawfully and they are not doing well financially.

Besides this pressure cooker, an international group of prestigious environmentalists, grouped together by SEMARNAT, rose daily at 3 am for three weeks, readied their equipment and went to sea at very slow speeds looking for a barely 17-centimeter fin, which is all the vaquita shows when it comes up to breath.

They wanted to locate, catch and bring [vaquitas] to a reproduction refuge to save the species. And they captured two: one was too young and released; and the other died after being released and a struggle to revive it for three hours. Veterinarians, environmentalists and officials wept. And the rescue operation is, for now, suspended.

But not the rest: the challenge to save [the vaquita] and the political and criminal conflicts that surround an issue in which the Mexican government has $2 billion pesos [US$ 104.6 million] involved.


"Corrupción, crimen y armas por la #VaquitaMarina," by Carlos Loret de Mola, Nov. 9, 2017,; translation by

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