Target: Minister Gao Hucheng of Ministry of Commerce People’s Republic of China
Goal: Stop allowing the sale of totoaba swim bladders and enforce the interception of their illegal trade.
Nets used to catch an endangered fish will cause the extinction of the vaquita porpoise if the high demand for totoaba bladders continues. The totoaba swim bladders, also called maw, are used in China for their alleged medicinal properties, and are worth thousands of dollars each. There is so little enforcement against the illegal trade of the bladders that they can often be seen sold in open markets in China.
The massive gill nets intended to trap totoaba, like huge walls spread out in the ocean, also trap dolphins, sea turtles, and the extremely endangered vaquita. In the same family as the dolphin, whale, and porpoise, the vaquita is the smallest, at most five-feet-long, with less than 100 members of this adorable species left in the world. Scientists say that the only way to save the vaquita is by completely eliminating gill net fishing, especially in the Gulf of California, the vaquita’s habitat.
It is unclear how many totoaba are left in the world but it is obvious that they are also endangered. Fishing them has been banned since 1975 when their swim bladder demand was so high that it dropped their population to dangerous levels. Now, they’re endangered again because of their high demand and consequentially high market value (fisherman can get thousands of dollars for each bladder). So it isn’t just the gentle vaquita that may go extinct if the demand for maw continues, but the totoaba too.
The nets used to catch the totoaba are illegal and dangerous to many varieties of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, especially the vaquita porpoise. Demand that China put an end to the totoaba market before the vaquita, and eventually totoaba, become extinct.
Dear Minister Gao Hucheng,
In Chinese markets, consumers are willing to pay very high prices for totoaba swim bladders, also called maw. Regrettably, the nets used to catch the totoaba also trap dolphins, sea-turtles, and the extremely endangered vaquita porpoise; there are less than 100 left in the world. The totoaba is also endangered but the demand for their swim bladders continue to rise.
Scientists argue that the only way to save the vaquita porpoise is to completely eliminate gill net fishing. This practice, although already banned in the Gulf of Mexico–the vaquita and totoaba habitat–will continue so long as there is a high demand for totoaba swim bladders.
Enforcing the restrictions on illegal trading and imports of totoaba swim bladders could save the vaquita species from extinction and would only inconvenience a small niche of consumers. If they were informed of the direct and permanent damage that continuing to demand totoaba maw will do to the remaining population of the vaquita porpoise, they may no longer be interested in consuming so irresponsibly.
China may not have been able to save the China river dolphin (also fished to extinction because of its swim bladder), but it still can save the vaquita porpoise from extinction. Please put an end to the sale of totoaba swim bladders and enforce the interception of their illegal trade before its too late.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries