The Cartel’s Cash Catch | VICE Documentary

There’s a race to save a dozen small cetaceans, the last in the world of their species. They’re caught as bycatch in nets set to trap a fish with a huge demand in China. Can anything be done? It all begins in Mexico, in the Gulf of California, just 97 miles from the US, where the totoaba is endemic. The demand for its swim bladder is at the heart of the issue. Two key towns in this region, San Felipe and Santa Clara, rely almost entirely on fishing shrimp and local fish. Times are perpetually challenging but engaging in illicit totoaba fishing can yield a substantial paycheck. They became overfished in the 2010s when a catch like this could generate hundreds of thousands of dollars each month. Adding to the severity of the situation for this endangered fish, the nets used to catch this species, as well as those used for local shrimp, have inadvertently captured a small porpoise native to the Gulf of California, Mexico: the vaquita marina. This has pushed it to the brink of extinction. The latest survey in 2024 was only able to spot 6-8 vaquitas, from 10-13 last year. The US is exerting pressure on Mexico over the issue, and scientists, along with environmentalists and law enforcement in several countries, are working tirelessly to save the vaquita, halt totoaba trafficking and develop sustainable alternatives to harmful nets.



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