MEXICO CITY – Mexican environmental agents seized a suitcase containing 271 swim bladders from an endangered fish species at the Mexico City International Airport, authorities said Tuesday.
The swim bladders arrived on a flight from Panama City and were identified by agents of the Profepa environmental protection agency.
Airport customs agents opened a suitcase and, packed under items of clothing, found a number of plastic bags containing swim bladders harvested from a fish known in Mexico as the “totoaba,” Profepa said in a statement.
The totoaba, which is native to the Gulf of California and has been declared a species at risk of extinction, suffers from heavy illegal fishing to get its much sought-after bladder, which goes for $5,000-$8,500 per kilogram ($2,272-$3,864 per pound) on the black market.
The totoaba bladders are much prized in Asia as an ingredient in fish-maw soup, believed to be good for general health and for fertility.
The pursuit of the totoaba puts another animal at risk: a species of porpoise called the “vaquita,” which often gets trapped in the fishing nets.
Scientists estimate the number of vaquita living in the wild at no more than 30.