Greenpeace exposes global wildlife trade pushing world’s rarest marine animal to extinction

Press release - 2015-05-27
Hong Kong, May 27, 2015 – A Greenpeace East Asia undercover investigation has today exposed market players in a global and illegal trade in marine wildlife from Mexico to Hong Kong and China, which is driving the last 97 vaquitas – the world’s most rare marine mammal – to extinction.

The vaquita, a rare porpoise found in the Gulf of California in Mexico, are being accidently caught in nets that are used to capture another endangered species called the totoaba, whose dried bladders are prized as a delicacy in China and fetch prices as high as HKD5 million (USD645,000) according to a source in the investigation.

“The vaquita are being caught up in an illegal trade that stretches from China to Mexico. If nothing is done now, they will disappear by 2018, potentially following the Yangtze River dolphin into oblivion and becoming only the second species of whale, dolphin or porpoise driven to extinction in human history,” said Gloria Chang, Program Manager at Greenpeace East Asia.

“Hong Kong authorities have the power to shut down this market. If they fail to act, not only will they be allowing an illegal trade to fester and fuel corruption in China and elsewhere, but they will be responsible for pushing the vaquita to extinction.”

Greenpeace East Asia conducted two undercover investigations in Hong Kong in February and April this year to find out the extent of the trade in totoaba bladders. The investigation, carried out by hidden camera and photo, identified at least 13 shops including both wholesales and retailers, found to be trading totoaba bladders and many even offering to source the product from Mexico.

The investigation revealed one retail outlet selling a totoaba fish bladder weighing 446g for HKD500,000 (USD64,500), while another retailer offered an additional HKD2,000 (USD248) smuggling fee to carry the specimen to mainland China. Greenpeace researchers were told that gangs in northern Mexico source the totoaba, which are then traded through middlemen in major cities in the United States’ West Coast.

“We tested customs in Mexico, United States and Hong Kong by mail and by air. Even when we asked the customs guard at Hong Kong airport if these dried bladders were allowed, we were waved through without any hassle. Even bringing in a bottle of alcohol received more scrutiny than the potentially illegal endangered animals we could’ve been carrying,” said Chang.

“Hong Kong prides itself as an open, free trade city, but this comes with a cost. The city has become a hub for illegal wildlife trade, with devastating results as far away as Mexico for the nearly extinct vaquita.”

The Mexican government placed a two-year ban on destructive gillnet fishing in the vaquita’s habitat, which is a first step - but stronger action is needed. The US has also promised to strengthen customs to crackdown on illegal wildlife trade, but as in Mexico, enforcement is still weak. Greenpeace urges authorities in these countries to strengthen enforcement and demands Hong Kong establish an Anti-Smuggling Task Force on endangered species as part of a package of measures to shut down the illegal wildlife trade.


Notes to media:

1) The full media briefing can be accessed here: http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/Global/eastasia/publications/campaigns/Oceans/HK%20Totoaba%20Trade_Greenpeace%20Media%20Briefing.pdf
2) Photo evidence http://bit.ly/1HyZYaq 
3) Video interview from Mexico: http://bit.ly/1LjJali and videos evidence from Hong Kong:  http://bit.ly/1FrTMxg

Media contact:

Gloria Chang, Programme Manager, Greenpeace East Asia (Hong Kong), , +852 60766781 (Hong Kong)

Tristan Tremschnig, Communications Hub Manager – Asia Pacific,
 +852 9712 3301 (Hong Kong)

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