How the Sinaloa Cartel Controls Seafood Sales to Restaurants and Wildlife Trafficking to China

Totoaba fishing is illegal (Photo: File)

The ambition of the Mexican cartels has no limits and often their tentacles extend to unexpected corners. Such is the case of the fishing industry and the wildlife trafficking from Mexico to China.

Criminal organizations like the Sinaloa Cartel are increasingly moving into the legal wildlife trade to Chinese buyers as a bargaining chip for chemical precursors for illegal drugs such as fentanyl and the methamphetamine, warned the report Poaching and wildlife trafficking linked to China in Mexicopublished by Brookings.

“In Mexico, much more than in other parts of the world, poaching and wildlife trafficking for Chinese markets is increasingly intertwined with drug trafficking, money laundering and the transfer of value in illicit economies. Nevertheless, the relationship between Chinese wildlife traders and Mexican organized crime groups is also undergoing major changes”, warned the author of the report, Vanda Felbab-Brown.

The Sinaloa drug organization, considered the largest and most powerful in the Western Hemisphere, has sought to monopolize legal and illegal companies throughout the entire vertical supply chain, the report warned. They no longer only demand a part of the profits, now they order the legal and illegal fishing companies how much they can fish and to whom they can sell it.

The area in which illegal totoaba fishing takes place
The area in which illegal totoaba fishing takes place

The influence of the Sinaloa Cartel in the fishing industry is so great that they even control the high-quality shellfish and marine products that are sold to tourist restaurants on the Mexican coast. “Mexican organized crime groups set prices to compensate fishermen and pay restaurants for the cartels’ seafood”.

The control of the fisheries makes it easier for the Sinaloa Cartel to have direct contact with Chinese merchants. For its part, the Chinese government has denied its responsibility for poaching and wildlife trafficking in Mexico, insisting that these are problems that concern the Mexican government. To date, there is no cooperation agreement between the two countries against wildlife trafficking.

In 2018 alone, following strong international pressure, the Chinese government carried out several raids against retail markets; but apparently these actions were not enough to counter illegal tradebecause from then on it became more hidden and looked for other ways such as private online platforms, the report specified.

In Mexico, the problem is exacerbated by the lack of authority, personnel and equipment to prevent environmental crimes. “Government officials, legal wildlife traders and even law enforcement agencies in Mexico are systematically corrupted and intimidated by organized crimeand poor rule of law in relation to law enforcement facilitates poaching, illegal logging, and wildlife trafficking to China,” Felbab-Brown noted.

(Photo: Cuartoscuro)
(Photo: Cuartoscuro)

Poached species smuggled into China, sometimes through the United States, include reptiles, sea cucumbers, totoabas, abalone, sharks and according to various reports, unfortunately more and more Jaguars.

The risks translate into potential damage to Mexico’s biodiversity. “It requires urgent attention with much more dedicated resources, as well as significant international cooperation, to identify and dismantle smuggling networks and retail markets,” the report concluded.


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