Mexican Officials Release Endangered Fish Into Sea Of Cortez, Where Poaching Is Rampant

By Kendal Blust
Published: Wednesday, November 18, 2020 - 5:37pm
Updated: Friday, November 20, 2020 - 1:32pm

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captive bred totoaba
Gobierno de Sonora
Officials observe totoaba that have been bred in captivity and will be released into the Sea of Cortez on Nov. 13, 2020.

Mexican officials helped release captive bred fish into the Sea of Cortez last week, where they are considered endangered because of poaching.

About 200 totoaba were released into the Sea of Cortez in the Sonoran coastal town of Kino Bay, where officials say they are working to reestablish a healthy population of the huge, endangered fish.

Mexican leaders have been trying to remove the totoaba's endangered status, arguing that populations have are already one the rise. Mexico’s Environmental Secretary María Luisa Albores said that would also benefit local families who could earn money catching the fish.

"We're talking about a healthy environmental, but also about a dignified life for the people that live in that environment," she said. "That will allow the management and use of the species in a controlled way, in compliance with the regulations and without affecting wildlife populations."

totoaba release
Gobierno de Sonora
Captive bred totoaba are ready to be released in the town of Kino Bay in Sonora on Nov. 13, 2020.

However, fishing for totoaba has been illegal since 1975 because of of the fish's endangered status. The nets used to catch totoaba are also the leading threat to the nearly extinct vaquita marina porpoise, and additional fishing bans have been implemented in the uppermost part of the Sea of Cortez to prevent harm to the few remaining vaquita.

But poaching is still rampant. Last week, eight people were arrested for allegedly catching and trafficking totoaba. Two were released by a judge Tuesday because of insufficient evidence.

Fishing bans have also caused significant hardship to legal fishermen who have few other options to make an income for their families. Many of those fishermen are ignoring new bans, calling on the government find a better solution to protecting the vaquita marina, and to crack down on totoaba poaching rather than on legal fishing in the region.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is set to visit Baja California later this month and has promised to specifically address issues of fishing and poaching in the region. He has been criticized for severely cutting funds to Mexico's environmental sector.

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