Three suspected totoaba poachers in the Sea of Cortez were reportedly shot by Marines following a confrontation over illegal gillnets that had been confiscated.
Fronteras reported that Baja California Gov. Francisco Vega, confirmed that three people were injured in a shootout between suspected poachers and Mexican military early Thursday morning in San Felipe, a small fishing village. One was transported to a hospital in Mexicali with serious injuries. He was shot three times, according to La Voz de la Frontera.
Gillnets meant for lucrative totoaba catches have been ensnaring rare vaquita, a small porpoise considered the most endangered mammal in the world. It is believed there are only 10 vaquita left.
Poachers prize totoaba for their swim bladders, which can fetch thousands of dollars per kilogram on the black market. The bladders, or maws, are highly prized by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. An investigation by wildlife crime watchdog group Elephant Action League concluded last year that criminal enterprises have muscled their way into the poaching game in the Sea of Cortez, giving rise to cartels that specialize in poaching totoaba maws and smuggling them out of Mexico.
A commentary for Mongabay argues that the vaquita is still doomed without intelligence activities and law enforcement aimed at disrupting the cartels driving the illegal trade in totoaba.
“They hammer the poachers and nobody really takes the time to understand who are the real enablers, investors and drivers along the supply chain, and take them out. Without a serious intelligence gathering and investigative effort, you are blind, and law enforcement can only hit the very expendable fishermen. Without intelligence and investigative efforts, to support law enforcement, you are bound to fail, and not only lose the vaquita and the marine life but also the millions of dollars spent so far,” the editorial states.