LOS ANGELES, Jan. 4 (Xinhua) -- A leading international environment advocacy group on Friday hailed Chinese government's law enforcement efforts against the smuggling of totoaba fish, an endangered species living in the Gulf of California in Mexico.
China Customs announced last week the results of its crackdown on a totoaba fish maw smuggling gang in 2018, which is "one of China's most successful cases in combating the smuggling of endangered species," according to an article published on the official website of the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Chinese customs offices carried out the operation named "SY608" across many cities in the country's southern regions of Guangdong and Guangxi, which led to the arrests of 16 individuals representing one of the main trafficking syndicates in totoaba swim bladders, confiscating over 444 kg of totoaba swim bladders, equivalent to an estimated 26.4 million U.S. dollars.
The case is still under investigation, but preliminary findings revealed that the criminal gang, which operated out of multiple Chinese provinces, illegally purchased the totoaba swim bladders in Mexico's Gulf of California, and smuggled them in luggage through several countries, before arriving in China.
"We desperately need international cooperation to eliminate trade in totoaba, which is driving the endangered vaquita porpoise, of which there are less than 15 left in the world, to extinction." Zak Smith, senior attorney for nature program at the NRDC, said in a statement.
"The Chinese government is stepping up to meet its commitment to eradicate the illegal totoaba trade in China. We hope the Mexican government will implement equally vigorous enforcement efforts to combat totoaba trafficking," the statement read.
Facing extinction, the totoaba is listed as an Appendix I species under CITES, meaning international commercial trade of the fish is prohibited. Endemic to the Gulf of California in Mexico, the totoaba is poached and smuggled under the false assumption that it could treat health problems or provide other benefits.