Operation Guardian AngelOperation Angel De La Guarda kicks off in Gulf of California

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society launches Operation Angel de la Guarda, a campaign to protect the imperiled totoaba bass in Mexico’s Gulf of California.

The campaign, which begins today, is a collaboration between Sea Shepherd and the Mexican government.  

Sea Shepherd’s anti-poaching vessel the M/V Farley Mowat is partnering with the Mexican Navy and environmental protection agency PROFEPA to patrol against totoaba poaching. The conservation organization will also work to remove illegal gillnets used in trapping the fish.

The M/V Farley Mowat is expected to stay in the area through summer and autumn.

The totoaba is a rare fish native to the Gulf which can measure up to 6 feet in length and weigh as much as 220 lbs. Fishing for totoaba has been banned by the Mexican government since 1975,  but it continues to be hunted by poachers solely for its swim bladder, which is sold on the black market in China in excess of $20,000 per kilo.

Due to its high street value, the totoaba bladder is frequently referred to as “aquatic cocaine.” These bladders are considered a delicacy in China, and often added to stews or soups. They are also sought for unsubstantiated medicinal properties.

Additionally, totoaba are being caught in illegal fishing gear – gillnets whose use is banned by the Mexican government. Once the bladder is removed from the fish, the totoaba is considered to be of no other use and it is wastefully discarded. 

These nets also trap other species in the northern Sea of Cortez including sharks, whales, rays and the near-extinct vaquita porpoise. 

Angel de la Guarda is an off-shoot from Sea Shepherd’s successful Operation Milagro campaigns in the Sea of Cortez to save the endangered vaquita. At this time of year, however, the totoaba migrate out of the vaquita habitat, poachers in tow.

With Angel de la Guarda, the totoaba now has its own campaign dedicated to stopping poachers from driving it to extinction for its swim bladder.

“We won’t give a break to the poachers,” said Director of Ship Operations, Captain Oona Layolle. “We will be tracking them and their activity. We hope to cut off the supply of ‘aquatic cocaine’ at the source.”

The campaign name, which translates to “Guardian Angel,” represents what Sea Shepherd aims to be for this endangered fish. It is also a nod to a nearby island in the Sea of Cortez, Isla Angel de la Guarda, also known as Archangel Island.

The Farley Mowat will patrol this area, remove illegal nets and assist the government in locating and tracking poachers.

Added Sea Shepherd founder, Captain Paul Watson: "Sea Shepherd is determined to do everything we can with the resources available to us to work in cooperation with the Mexican Navy to save both the endangered vaquita and the endangered totoaba fish. We will dedicate our ships and volunteers to ensuring that these two species do not become extinct on our watch.”

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