Coveted Totoaba is cultivated in Mexico

In a bid to save both the endangered fish and the vaquita porpoise
Coveted Totoaba is cultivated in Mexico
Totoaba – Photo: Elisabeth Ramírez
17/03/2018
15:10
Berenice González Durand
Mexico City
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In the 1940s, about 2,300 tons of totoaba were fished every year, the historical maximum of a fishing resource that slowly decreased. In addition to overexploitation, incidental capture by shrimp boats, sport fishing and the alteration of its natural breeding habitat from the Colorado River to the Gulf of California, were the main reasons for their decrease.

In 1975, Mexico banned totoaba fishing in a bid to save both the endangered fish and the vaquita porpoise.

Totoaba, compared to the vaquita has a brighter future. For forty years, no population studies of the Totoaba were carried out, until recently when preservation efforts were reactivated by institutions such as the Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC).

According to a 2017 report issued by the Molecular Ecology Laboratory of the aforementioned institution, it was possible to calculate the existence of around 10,000 female totoabas in their natural habitat, which translates into approximately 350,000 individuals.

Moreover, another encouraging indicator derived from the use of genetic markers is their high level of genetic variability.

Totoaba fishing is illegal in Mexico, yet anyone can taste its high-protein meat thanks to sustainable farming projects. The whole process that has to do with reproduction of eggs, larvae, and juveniles is done in specialized laboratories. For instance, UABC's laboratory in Ensenada and the Reproductive Center of Marine Species of the State of Sonora (CREMES) in Kino Bay.

Currently, there are six Totoaba Management Units for the Conservation of Wildlife (UMAs) endorsed by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of Mexico (Semarnat). UMA owners are authorized to carry out the reproduction, fattening, commercialization (only at a national level, since export is prohibited), repopulation, and overall fish conservation programs.

Thus, totoaba has become an attractive species for aquaculture, even though it requires a high degree of specialization and infrastructure, as tanks confine toxic elements for the fish, unlike natural reproduction carried out in the sea.

sg

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