One hundred twenty-one fish swim bladders lay before Garcia Pereda on the concrete floor, most of them white, some with shades of pink. The smell of fish guts was overwhelming, a stench Garcia Pereda never grew accustomed to, even as he went from bust after bust of the illegal smuggling. This was a huge haul of “aquatic cocaine”: 39 kilos of totoaba fish swim bladders, with a Hong Kong street value of $750,000. Not quite as big as a recent bust, thought Garcia Pereda, where they’d stopped 600 bladders from getting across the U.S.-Mexico border, flowing eventually to China.
These swim bladders were large, all from totoaba bass at least 30 years old. Garcia Pereda, a representative from PROFEPA, Mexico’s version of the Environmental Protection Agency, knew this bust was barely a dent in the multibillion-dollar international black market, robbing Mexico of its endangered species.