In a street in Canton, a Chinese merchant unveils her treasure: dried bladders of totoaba, which her compatriots love. But off the coast of Mexico where this fish lives, this appetite threatens its survival, as well as that of the Pacific porpoise, a collateral victim of the nets laid by the illegal fishermen of totoaba.
The Gulf of California has become in recent years a real battleground, between the boats of environmental activists, the ships and helicopters of the Mexican Navy patrolling the area, and the illegal fishermen acting armed.
In the background, a black market of hundreds of thousands of dollars because in China , the swimming bladder of totoaba, endemic Gulf fish now in danger of extinction, is worth a fortune for its supposed virtues in medicine and aesthetics.
The Pacific porpoise or "Gulf of California porpoise" is the other victim of this traffic: also called "vaquita marina" ("sea cow"), the smallest porpoise in the world gets stuck in the drift nets of smugglers.  There would be less than thirty left. In order to protect them, the authorities have banned almost all fishing on nearly 1,300 km2 since 2015, especially around San Felipe, a small village that depends on it 70% and gradually deserted by its inhabitants.
"They want to make San Felipe, a ghost town, "despairs Omar Solis, a 42-year-old shrimp fisherman who had to buy a catamaran to convert to tourism.
Idle, fishermen may well fall prey to illegal fishing Totoaba, sold at great prices, he warns: "This is not what we want, it is tantamount to risking his life, but when we have no money, what can we to do? "
– The shadow of the cartels –
This hunt is risky: black flag with skull on the bow, a camouflaged boat of the American environmental organization Sea Shepherd patrol day and night for three years to search for illegal boats and their nets. And since February, after threats and attacks, he is escorted by policemen and soldiers armed with rifles.
Images of the NGO show a boat with hooded fishermen, one of them pulls a pistol and fires Sea Shepherd drones
Illegal totoaba fishermen face up to nine years in prison. And the authorities searched phones and finances poachers arrested for any connection with organized crime.
A sailor deployed on the area assures: the illegal fishermen "go out at sea armed and shoot" between competing boats.
After removing the bladder from the fish, they throw the corpse back into the sea and hide their loot in their boots or in the secret compartments of the boat.
Then the bladder is shipped to border towns with the United States where it is dissected and "packaged to be sent to China, Hong Kong," says Joel Gonzalez, of the Federal Prosecution (Profepa).
From April 2015 to January 2018, 704 bladders of totoaba were seized, as well as 304 corpses in illegal nets, according to Profepa.
Joel Gonzalez, "it is highly probable" that poachers are financed by cartels drug traffickers
On condition of anonymity, a fisherman from San Felipe confirms that "the majority of totoabas fishermen are armed. It is the same mafia, the same networks of corruption and the same roads of traffic "for the totoaba and the drug.
– The worried fishermen –
To thousands of kilometers of there, in Canton (south of China), a salesgirl shows off her precious booty in front of an AFP journalist who introduced herself as a simple customer: on a traditional wooden table, she offers tea and several dehydrated totoaba bladders.
give the twist, from 20,000 yuan (3,160 dollars) for that of low quality to 130,000 yuan (20,500 dollars) for the best piece.
And they are not negotiable: "they are already competitive prices," says the shopkeeper , which offers "a holster to expose (the bladder at home, a common custom in China, ed) with a ribbon and gold silk."
The total price of eight bladders for sale at her home is $ 80,000. 19659002] The connoisseurs say that the more the bladder of totoaba is old – including ten years old – better is his taste. Prepared in soup, it would relieve arthritis and the ills of pregnancy, and reinflate the skin thanks to its high level of collagen.
– Survive –
Prevented from practicing their trade, the fishermen of San Felipe s 'worry for their survival. Their leader, Sunshine Rodriguez, went on a ten-day hunger strike to demand from the government and environmentalists the scientific evidence that all nets – not just those for totoabas – were affecting the Pacific porpoise. He did not get an answer.
According to some experts like Manuel Galindo, the porpoise can only be caught in the thickets used to catch totoaba, and the risk of extinction of this species is mainly due to the habitat deterioration.
Porpoises live just at the mouth of the Colorado River because they need low-salt, high-feed water, and low temperatures, says Manuel Galindo, a retired oceanographer who worked for 37 years at the Institute of Oceanological Research of the Autonomous University of Baja California
But these conditions "no longer exist" because the river is diverted to dams in the United States, ensures he said he was pessimistic about the future of the porpoise.