Second Largest Seizure in Arizona of Protected Totoaba Swim Bladders Discovered At Arizona Port of Entry

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and agriculture specialists at the Port of San Luis seized 109 pounds of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Endangered Species Act (ESA)-protected totoaba swim bladders with an estimated value of $910,000 – $1,365,000.

Photo Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

For the second time this year, CBP officers and agriculture specialists discovered 91 swim bladders of the endangered totoaba fish which were concealed within a commercial shipment of frozen fish fillets. A previous seizure at the Nogales trade facility was made in April of this year. CBP contacted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) who took possession of the bladders. Preliminary DNA testing by USFWS indicates that these bladders are likely the endangered species Totoaba macdonaldi endemic to the Gulf of California in Mexico. This seizure is one of the larger commercial seizures of its kind in the U.S., and the second largest totoaba seizure in Arizona, to date.

Totoaba fish have been listed as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1979. The swim bladders of this species and other similar species worldwide are prized in traditional Chinese medicine and as an Asian cultural delicacy. Because the species is federally protected, in both the U.S. and Mexico, it is illegal to take, possess, transport, or sell totoaba. In addition, the gill-net fishing methods used to catch the totoaba have resulted in the co-demise of another endangered species in the Gulf of California, the vaquita porpoise, Phocoena sinus.

USFWS and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) continue investigating the smuggling attempt of this protected animal.

“Our officers and agriculture specialists enforce a wide variety of laws on behalf of numerous agencies”, said Tucson Field Office Director of Field Operations Guadalupe Ramirez. This is the second largest seizure of totoaba swim bladders in Arizona this year and is an exceptional example of the job CBP Officers and Agriculture Specialists do to enforce laws regarding all commodities entering the United States.  This seizure also continues to highlight the integral working relationship we have with our US Fish and Wildlife partners, enforcing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species treaty agreement.”