Translated by Fulano from an article in Excelsior.com.mx.
Mexico City, July 19, 2018 – After and 14-month undercover investigation, the Elephant Action League (EAL) revealed the composition, location and modus operandi of the “Totoaba Cartels,” made up of the Chines mafia and organized crime organization in Mexico. Due to the illegal catching of that fish, they have been baptized “the cocained of the sea,” and have put the vaquita porpoise at the edge of extinction.
“Operation Fake Gold,” led by an old FBI agent, the former captain of the Sea Shepherd group, crime analysis specialists and Andrea Crosta, the Executive Director of EAL, who worked to infiltrate and extract first hand information, was filmed for the documentary “Vaquita – Sea Ghosts,” produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, which is scheduled for showing in the beginning of 2019.
The final report of the investigation establishes that the Totoaba Cartels are composed of dangerous Mexican criminals, the fishing communities of San Felipe and Santa Clara, businessmen and chinese entrepreneurs, mainly with a base of operation in Tijuana and Mexicali.
EAL created a profile of a Mexican trafficker identified as M11, 37 years old, married twice, who has children with four different women and owns 17 homes in San Felipe and 27 vehicles.
According to sources, M11 threatened and instilled fear to take control of the Totoaba business in San Felipe.
According to Operation Fake Gold, M11 was involved with the Tijuana drug cartel, and he pays them regularly to be able to transport Totoaba bladders along the routes they control.
The undercover activists also managed to describe the profile of a prominent Chinese businessman, identified as P9, who “has been operating several businesses in Mexico for many years. He operates in Tijuana and Ensenada and he is known as one of the ‘elderly Chinese,’ a community with strong ties to well educated businessmen who operate both legal and illegal businesses.”
“That man works in trafficking wild animals, including Totoaba bladders, and possibly human trafficking. He admits to being in the seafood business, but does not speak about legal or illegal business in seafood. His activities also involve other businesses, including import and export,” it said.
The report said that P9 manages funds for the members of the Totoaba Cartel, used to purchase bladders directly from the fishermen and the “mules” who transport them to Tijuana and Ensenada or Mexicali.
One well-informed source siad that he is directly a part of the Chinese mafia, but he deals with them to move illegal products.
The Totoaba distribution chain starts in the Upper Gulf of California, where owners of fishing cooperatives and local fishermen illegally capture Totoaba, an fish which has been protected since May 24, 1974. They use gillnets which also trap vaquitas.
The Totoaba swim bladder us removed at sea and the fish is tossed back into the sea. The bladders are delivered to a crew which is waiting on shore in pick-ups which pay up to US$5,000 dollars for a kilogram of bladders.
“The trafficker’s activities are carried out right in the open, as the coastline is a treeless desert. Drones and aircraft could easily detect their movements. There is only one highway from south of San Felipe up to Mexicali. The bladders are usually unloaded at local beaches, the poachers also use maritime routes and unload their cargoes in Puertecitos and Santa Clara, where there is total impunity as the entire area is controlled by the Totoaba Cartel,” the report revealed.
Local sources in San Felipe calculated that more than 80% of all the fishermen in the Upper Gulf of California are now illegally fishing for Totoaba.
The average salary for a legal fisherman in the region is US$400 to US$500 per month. Just one Totoaba bladder, if it is a female, which has a larger bladder, could be worth more than US$5,000 dollars for just one night’s work.
From the coasts of the Upper Gulf, the bladders are taken from locations in San Felipe, Santa Clara and sometimes Puerto Peñasco, to be sold to the first buyers.
The bladders are dried and rolled up so they can be transported discretely, usually in secret compartments in car and trucks, tied to people’s bodies, in bags or any hidden location available.
“At this point the second buyer enters the game, they are usually Chinese who live in Mexicali, Tijuana, Ensenada, Calexico, Mazatlán, Puerto Peñasco, Guaymas, or La Paz, who buy the bladders and move them with mules,” the report adds.
The bladders are transported to cites inside Baja California, in black markets operated by Chinese citizens.
They are transported as contraband to Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and other cities, including in the United States.
A means of delivery is in checked baggage traveling on connected flights. “This system seems to elude current airport controls. The sources indicate that Beijing, China, is one of the transfer stations where there is no documented baggage inspection.”