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Time short to save vaquita by tackling illegal fish trade


Time running out to save the vaquita by cracking down on illegal totoaba trade


LONDON: With distinctive markings around its mouth and eyes, the vaquita is one of the world’s most iconic marine mammal species – but with fewer than 60 left, it is doomed to extinction in the very near future unless immediate and meaningful action is taken.

The vaquita’s plight as the world’s most endangered cetacean species is not due to direct threats such as hunting. Instead, its plummeting numbers are due to indiscriminate killing in illegal gillnets used to poach critically endangered totoaba fish.

Both species are found in only one place in the world, Mexico’s Gulf of California. Although both are protected and all international trade in totoaba has been banned since 1977, the demand from consumers in Hong Kong and mainland China has maintained a relentless pressure through poaching and illegal trade.

The new report Collateral Damage, released today by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), paints the most comprehensive picture yet of the clandestine market for the dried swim bladders, or ‘maw’, of the totoaba and its appalling impact on the vaquita.

Dried totoaba swim bladders are known in the trade as ‘money maw’ and ‘aquatic cocaine’ for the staggeringly high sums they command; even though a recent glut on the market deflated prices, large high-quality specimens can still fetch more than $50,000 each. The maws are a prized ingredient in Chinese traditional medicine for their alleged benefits in treating circulatory and skin problems.

EIA has monitored the market for fish maw products since April 2015, including online trading, and conducted a series of undercover investigations in Hong Kong and southern China.

Posing as fish maw investors, EIA investigators identified the coastal town of Shantou, in China’s Guangdong Province, as the centre of the maw trade; 90 per cent of shops in the Jinping market are run by members of the Shantou Swim Bladder and Dried Seafood Association and specialise in the wholesale distribution of fish maws while also supplying other key trading centres such as Guangzhou city.

EIA’s investigations found that traders in Guangzhou have become more wary as a result of local enforcement efforts; in May 2015, EIA documented hundreds of totoaba maws on open on sale in Guangzhou’s Qingping market but none just seven months later, although some traders still offered totoaba maw under the counter. In contrast, totoaba maws were on open sale in Shantou in June 2016.

“There have been significant efforts to crack down on illegal fishing for totoaba and remove gillnets from the range of the vaquita,” said Clare Perry, Head of EIA’s Oceans Campaign. “But these efforts will not save the vaquita without coordinated international action to eliminate the illegal trade in totoaba, particularly in the main consumer market in China.”

The 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) later this month presents a major opportunity to agree a series of time-bound actions to strengthen international cooperation to eliminate illegal totoaba trade, with Mexico, China and the US (a transit country) playing key roles.

Perry added: “China has committed to reduce the impact of illegal wildlife trade, including specifically the trade in totoaba, and we urgently need to see these commitments turned into action. We are running out of time to prevent the extinction of a species.”

Collateral Damage concludes with a series of recommendations for China to improve enforcement against the illegal totoaba trade and reduce demand, as well as urging Mexico to enact a permanent fishing ban throughout the entire range of the vaquita.




  1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses.
  2. Read and download Collateral Damage: How illegal trade in totoaba swim bladders is driving the vaquita to extinction here.
  1. EIA has produced a short film to accompany the report; it can be viewed here and you are invited to embed or link to it.
  1. Learn more about the illegal trade in totoaba in EIA’s interactive map here.


Environmental Investigation Agency
62-63 Upper Street
London N1 0NY
Tel: +44 207 354 7960








加湾石首鱼的干鱼鳔被俗称为 “金钱胶”。它们因其难以置信的天价也被称为 “水生可卡因”。尽管最近供大于求的状况使价格下降,较大的、高品质的鱼鳔的价格仍然可高达三万人民币一个。加湾石首鱼鱼胶因为据称能治疗循环和皮肤问题而受到追捧,尽管这些药用价值未经科学研究证实。




“大家已经在打击非法加湾石首鱼捕捞和移除小头鼠海豚活动范围内的刺网上付出了诸多努力。” EIA海洋项目负责人Clare Perry说:“不过这些活动无法拯救小头鼠海豚。除非能有国际间协调的行动来终止加湾石首鱼贸易,尤其是在中国的主要消费市场。”


Perry说: “中国已经承诺减少非法野生动物贸易的不利影响,并且明确提到了加湾石首鱼贸易。我们急需看到上述承诺成为现实行动。为避免这个物种的灭绝,我们的时间已经不多了。”





  1. 环境调查署(EIA)是一家非政府组织,位于英国和华盛顿。EIA致力于调查和揭露环境犯罪,包括非法野生动物贸易、非法砍伐、危险废物以及改变气候和臭气层化学品的贸易。
  1. 阅读和下载《间接伤害:加利福尼亚湾石首鱼鱼鳔非法贸易如何导致小头鼠海豚走向灭绝》,请见这里
  1. EIA也制作了一部相关短片,请见这里。


Environmental Investigation Agency
62-63 Upper Street
London N1 0NY
电话: +44 207 354 7960