Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, March 29, 2019

Covert Operation: "Operation False Gold"

Yaqui for Borderland Beat from: Excelsior and WildAid
                                                         Confiscated totoaba swim bladders
Thanks to a Special Amiga!

Mexico City: After a covert investigation of 14 months, the Elephant Action League (EAL) organization uncovered the composition, location and modus operandi of the "totoaba cartels", made up of the Chinese mafia and Mexican organized crime, that with the illegal capture of This fish, baptized as "the cocaine of the sea" , has the vaquita on the verge of extinction.

The Operation Fake Gold , headed by a former FBI agent a former captain of the group Sea Shepherd, specialists in crime analysis and Andrea Crosta, executive director of EAL, who worked to infiltrate and extract information first hand, was filmed for the documentary "Little cow: Sea of ​​Ghosts ", produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, whose launch is scheduled for early 2019.
The final report of the investigation establishes that the "totoaba cartels" are composed of dangerous Mexican criminals and drug traffickers in Baja California, the fishing communities of San Felipe and Santa Clara, and Chinese traders and entrepreneurs, mainly based in Tijuana and Mexicali Baja California .
Infuse Fear as a Tactic:

Elephant Action League profiled a Mexican trafficker identified as M11, 37, married twice, who has children with four women and owns 17 homes in San Felipe and 27 vehicles.

According to sources, M11 threatened and instilled fear to take control of the totoaba trade in San Felipe, BC. That was until he shot a soldier in a crowded street in San Felipe on December 31, 2017, he was "the number one totoaba trafficker in Baja California. "

It is known that M11 was very aggressive with anyone trying to enter the totoaba trade. He and his gang were armed with pistols and grenades, and threatened to kill anyone who crossed their path. If instilling fear did not help their cause, they resorted to bribes, paying the authorities at all levels, from the local police to the federal judges. " 

According to Operation Fake Gold, M11 was involved with the Tijuana drug cartel and paid him regularly to transport the totoaba swim bladders through the routes they control.

The Chinese Marketplace
"Chinese  Elders":

The undercover activists also managed to profile a prominent businessman of Chinese origin identified as P9, who "has lived and managed several businesses in Mexico for many years. He operates in Tijuana and Ensenada and is known as one of the "Chinese Elders," a tightly connected community of well-educated businessmen who run both legal and illegal business ventures. "

The man deals with the trafficking of wild species, including totoaba, as well as possibly human trafficking. He admits to being in the seafood business, but he does not talk about the current activity in the legal or illegal trade of seafood. Activity that mixes with your other commercial companies, including import and export. "

The report states that P9 provides funds to the members of the "totoaba cartels" to buy tuccas directly to the fishermen and the "mules" that transport the swim bladders to Tijuana, Ensenada or Mexicali. 

A source who is very well informed indicates that he is not directly part of the Chinese mafia , but deals with it to move illicit products .

Illegal Capture:

The totoaba supply chain begins in the Upper Gulf of California , where owners of fishing cooperatives and local fishermen illegally capture specimens of this species in a closed season since May 24, 1974, with gill nets, which also trap marine vaquita porpoises.

The swim bladder or craw is extracted from the totoaba in the sea and the body is thrown back into the water. The product is delivered to a crew that waits on the ground in pick-up trucks, which pay up to five thousand dollars per kilogram of crop .

The activities of the traffickers are carried out in the open air, since the coast is desert and without trees; Unmanned aircraft and planes could easily detect their movements. There is only one main road that leads south to San Felipe and north to Mexicali. The swallows are usually unloaded at local beaches, poachers also take the sea lanes and unload the product at Puertecitos, Santa Clara, where there is total impunity, since the area is governed by the totoaba cartels. "

Local sources in San Felipe estimate that more than 80% of all fishermen in the Upper Gulf of California are now illegally fishing totoaba. 

$5,000 US dollars costs a single totoaba bladder:

The average salary for a legal fisherman in the region is 400 to 500 dollars per month. A single totoaba swim bladder, if female (larger), can be worth more than five thousand dollars for a night's work.  $500 a month wins a San Felipe fisherman or the ones who flock there to join in the false gold.

From the coasts of the Upper Gulf, the crop is taken to places in San Felipe, Baja California, Santa Clara, and occasionally Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, to be sold to the first buyers. 

In these villages is where the raw crop is prepared to move it to a place of drying. The buyer weighs the swim bladders and pays $3,500 USD to $100,000 Pesos per kilogram. "

The swivels are rolled so they can be transported discreetly, usually inside compartments hidden in cars or vans, tied to someone's body, in bags, or in any hidden place that is available. 

At this point is when the second buyer comes into play, are usually Chinese citizens of Mexicali, Tijuana, Ensenada, Calexico, Mazatlan, Puerto Peñasco, Guaymas Sonora, and/or La Paz BCS who buy the swim bladders and move them with mules.

The bladders are moved to the cities of the interior of Baja California, in the smuggling centers operated by Chinese citizens. 

Bladders are smuggled through transit countries such as Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and others, including the United States.

A means of delivery is in checked baggage traveling on connected flights. "This system seems to elude current airport controls. The sources indicate that Beijing, China, is one of the transfer stations where there is no documented baggage inspection."


False Gold:

-The Elephant Action League (EAL) is a non-governmental organization that performs intelligence tasks to discover the modus operandi of bands dedicated to wildlife trafficking.
-In March of 2017 he undertook an undercover operation called Operation Fake Gold, to unravel the bladder traffic of the totoaba fish.
-The poaching of this species in the Sea of ​​Cortez, known in China as the "Fish of Money", is directly linked to the disappearance of the vaquita, which dies drowned in fishing nets.
-According to the operation, the bladders of totoabas, closed since 1975, travel 13 thousand kilometers, from Mexico to China, sometimes passing through the United States, hidden inside containers of legal products, such as cod.
-The eradication of the fishing of this fish would benefit the survival of the vaquita marina porpoise, endemic species of the Sea of ​​Cortés.

The Good News:

China seizes totoaba swim bladders worth $26 million, arrests 16 people, Jan 27, 2018

Chinese customs officials have confiscated 444 kilograms (980 pounds) of totoaba swim bladders, estimated to be worth about $26 million USD.

The ongoing Chinese investigation also led to the arrest of 16 people known to be part of a major totoaba trafficking syndicate.

The illegal totoaba fishery has spelled doom not just for the totoabas themselves, but also for the vaquita, the world’s smallest and rarest porpoise, also found only in the Gulf of California.
Chinese customs officials have confiscated 444 kilograms (980 pounds) of swim bladders harvested from totoaba, a critically endangered fish, estimated to be worth about $26 million.

The totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) is a large marine fish that lives only in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Its dried swim bladders, also called maws, have been dubbed “aquatic cocaine” because of the high prices they fetch in mainland China and Hong Kong, with large maws reportedly earning up to $47,000 in local black markets, according to the investigative NGO Elephant Action League (EAL).

Apart from the seizures, the latest Chinese undercover operation, named “SY608,” which involved several raids carried out across cities in Guangdong and Guangxi, also led to the arrest of 16 people. These individuals are part of one of the main totoaba trafficking syndicates, according to conservation group WildAid.

“Though the investigation is still ongoing, preliminary results show the syndicate would purchase the totoaba swim bladders in Mexico then transport them through multiple transit points using suitcases before entering [China] to be sold illegally,” WildAid said in the statement.

Mexico banned totoaba fishery in 1975 after totoaba catches declined drastically. But illegal fishing continues because of the high demand for totoaba swim bladders in China, where it is incorrectly believed to treat fertility and circulatory problems. In April this year, Mexican authorities arrested two Chinese nationals who were attempting to smuggle hundreds of dried totoaba swim bladders in suitcases.

The illegal totoaba market has spelled doom for the vaquita (Phocoena sinus), the world’s smallest and rarest porpoise, also found only in the Gulf of California. The vaquita gets entangled in gillnets meant for totoabas, which has led to its population collapsing to only 12 individuals.

“For many years China was not aware of the illegal trade in totoaba bladders,” WildAid CEO Peter Knights said in the statement. “But when alerted, they stopped open trade and now they are taking down smuggling rings. Let’s hope their decisive action can help the remaining vaquita porpoises that are literally on the brink of extinction.”

NOTE: Thank you very much, I prefer the name El Golfo de California or the Vermillion Sea and thanks for being patient with these Vaquita Posts; it is the last stand and I have only so much hope for the Chinese "good news".


  1. Yaqui, it is a good thing when somebody sock it to them on the head, better late than never,
    but this is too late...right??

    1. YES, of course it’s too late, sadly , IMO.

  2. Thanks for posting these vaquita updates. Really appreciated.

  3. 12;09 you are a ginius,
    like plastic flamingos, vaquita will make a killing,
    and maybe replace the bladders with pig buches and tripas de vaca.

  4. this is so sad!!! great coverage Yaqui

  5. It’s CDS in Sonora, mostly in the sea of Cortez doing those jobs. They are connected with the Chinese in San Diego, LA and San Francisco who ship those poor fishies out of ports out to China. The port of Oakland is home to CDS

  6. How about castrating the fishermen and the people caught with bladders?
    You can sell ape 'nads for very good prices too, don' t tell buyers they are from two legged pigs.

  7. M11 owns 17 houses and 27 vehicles...This is no fisherman,
    I am sure he will own shit after these pantominas.
    Greedy motherfacker doesn't even pay the real fishermen, that how it works, specially not $3 500 dollars per kilo, peisos maybe.

  8. So sad! But again another great article! Keep up the good work guys!

  9. Chivis I must be turning into stone. I sincerely care more for these fish then the trpical junkie/hype.

    1. Agree.
      Social reform and environmental protection is direly needed.

    2. nothing wrong with that
      vaquita pretty little creature

  10. Cds fishing the vaca to extinction

  11. Holy shit at first sight i taught they was human parts in that picture. Ok now carry on....

  12. Why don't they just get the remaining vaquitas and take them to a safe environment so they can breed and repopulate slowly or clone them those Chinese be paying top dollar for the wierdest things thers also a small African armadillo that's going extinct because the want the scales

  13. 7:24 just the sight of these bladders has that effect on you.
    That why they are so expensive.
    there are too many Chinese in the world, but their US employers need a lot more slave communist laborers, Christian if possibol.


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