San Felipe, BC: “Cocaine of the Sea” on Steroids; 80 Boats, 100’s of Fishermen Caught Corralling Totoaba

Latin America World

Yaqui for Borderland Beat From: Periodico/ Vanguardia/JournalTimes

           “Cartel del Mar” activities have the Vaquita Marina Porpoise on the brink of extinction
Yes, Lots of Photos plus Two Videos

As in the case of Ovid Guzmán: Mexican armed forces capture members of the “Cartel del Mar “… but they released them. Army, Navy and Federal Police elements arrested and moments later released members of the “Cartel del Mar” in Baja California, almost as it happened with the capture of Ovidio Guzmán.
This past weekend, in Baja California, federal forces faced a reality almost identical to what happened with the son of ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán in Culiacán on October 17: they carried out an operation to arrest suspected criminals, arrested them, took control of their properties, the cartel reacted with fury, their loyalists surrounded the uniformed men and they finally gave in: they returned the detainees, released control of the properties and left the place.

The above, after environmentalists disseminated videos and photographs of fishermen with their illegal catch of Totoaba fish. The fishermen better known as “bucheros”  operating in the community of San Felipe, Mexicali Baja California in the Upper Golfo de California.

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The video of these facts was uploaded to social networks by citizens of the San Felipe community , which is in the process of being a municipality, but for now it remains under the jurisdiction of Mexicali . It is the bastion of the so called “Cartel del Mar”, associated with the trafficking of species, the illegal fishing of totoaba which puts the vaquita marina porpoise on the verge of extinction.
A conservation group trying to protect the world’s most endangered marine mammal said Monday that hundreds of fishermen massed in dozens of boats to fish illegally in Mexico’s Gulf of California.
Activists with the Sea Shepherd group said they witnessed about 80 small fishing boats pulling nets full of endangered totoaba fish from the water near the port of San Felipe on Sunday.
Those same nets catch vaquita porpoises. Perhaps as few as 10 of the small, elusive porpoises remain in the Gulf of California, which is the only place they live.

While totoaba are more numerous, they are also protected. But their swim bladders are considered a delicacy in China and command high prices. ( the Totoaba fish themselves were at one time quite depleted and there have been immense efforts to repopulate them ).

The Mexican government prohibits gill net fishing in the gulf, also known as the Sea of Cortez, but budget cuts have meant authorities have stopped compensation payments for fishermen for not fishing.
The Sea Shepherd operates in the area to remove the gillnets that trap vaquitas, but the group said the mass fishing seen Sunday was a new tactic, in which a number of boats would surround and enclose totoabas to ensure they couldn’t escape the nets. The fisherman, effectively, corralled them.
The mass turnout overwhelmed the relatively few Mexican navy personnel present, the group said. In the past, fishermen have attacked Sea Shepherd boats as well as naval vessels.
The story began a few days ago. Environmental non-governmental organizations photographed dozens of boats fishing for totoaba in the refuge area of ​​the vaquita marina porpoise, something that is prohibited. (That NGO is, notably, the Sea Shepard, Paul Watson’s offshoot organization from the original Geenpeace, org. They spend much of their time and resources on attempting to slow or stop the Japanese Whaling Fleet in the South Pacific , who continue to kill the worlds diminishing whale population in defiance of the Itn’l Whaling Commission Moratorium, the IWC .)

The ‘bucheros’, as the totoaba illegal fishermen are known in slang, distributed a recorded video from a panga in which they have several totoabas trapped in the illegal networks. Each crop, ie, its swim bladder,  is sold to the “Cartel del Mar” for an average of $ 4,000, and the cartel markets it for up to $ 10,000 on the black market in China, where it is believed to have aphrodisiac and medicinal effects. Pictures of illegal fishing and the video of the pangas can also be found.

Elements of the Army, the Navy and the Federal Police managed to stop several ‘bucheros’ and seize their boat and their nets. Not for much longer. On board trucks, a group of men, allegedly linked to the “Cartel del Mar,” begins to follow the official vehicle, until it apparently manages to intercept it. They get off all of their trucks. Civilians take down the uniformed, there are screams, jerks, threats, it is night, and the Feds end up releasing the detainees, freeing the nets and returning the boats.
The impunity with which the “Cartel del Mar” operates in the area of ​​the Upper Gulfo de California not only has the vaquita (which gets trapped in the same networks as the tototaba fish) on the brink of extinction, but has also put Mexico in the danger of being commercially sanctioned with a fishing embargo, which could mean an economic crisis on the country’s coasts. Images like those reported here reinforce the complaint: what is seen is pure ungovernability and impunity.

It should also be said that Vaquita porpoise has had complete protection for a number of years now, in a last ditch effort to save at least a breeding male/female pair, their extinction is that imminent. The waters in which they swim are completely off limits to fishing as they are endemic to the Upper Golfo de California. The gill nets these fishermen use illegally, set at night to avoid detection, easily catch other species as well. Because the fines are so steep for being caught with illegally fished Totoaba ( supposedly) the fishermen gut the swim bladders out of the sizable Totoaba fish at sea and throw the rest of the entire fish overboard. Yes, it does not go to complete waste as the sea birds, other fish and invertebrates will consume them, however, none of the delicious meat of the fish ever makes it back to an often poor fisherman’s family. Their carcasses wash up strewn all over beaches after storms or high tides.

What is the “Cartel del Mar”?
“I have family, I have brothers”, was the response of Óscar Parra Aispuro “ El Parra ” or “ El Tekolín ”, when members of the  State Ministerial Police  questioned him about his successor at the head of his  organization  who – according to his own sayings- reached at least one hundred fishermen and some elements dedicated to other types of activities, from armed men to logistics managers.

The incident occurred on Thursday, March 28, on the Gulf of Santa Clara Avenue, where 37-year-old Enrique García Sandez “ El Kiki ” was injured at the hands of personnel from the Ministry of the Navy and would eventually generate an social outbreak, provoking what turned into a riot, showed that the  fishing and traffic of totoaba  did not suffer significant affectation after the arrest of the alleged leader of the “Cartel del Mar”, because the organization has a large number of active elements and can continue operations without any problem.

               “Social Outbreak” in San Felipe, Baja California; “Cartel del Mar” home central
Note: See my whole series of Posts re what is commonly referred to as the  “Cocaine of the Sea”. This particular incident called here a “social outbreak” is when the fishermen’s protest got out of hand and they ended up setting fire to the PROFEPA facilities and reclaiming some of their confiscated boats and equipment, aka a riot.

Inspector of the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa) from 2008 to 2014, García Sandez, the man who was injured in San Felipe on March 28, began as a federal official with a salary of 7,135 pesos, according to data provided in his declaration of assets and property before the Ministry of Public Administration (SFP); upon leaving, he earned just over 13,000 pesos a month.
With high school completed and the only experience of having worked as a gasoline dispatcher and security guard at the Costa Azul hotel, he became an inspector of Profepa, but apparently he left his post when his links were discovered with totoaba traffickers.

Coordination Group personnel identify “El Kiki” as a member of the totoaba traffic cell of José Luis García Ruiz “La Yegua”, an alleged partner of “El Parra”, who apparently would have taken the majority control of the Plaza, although it is not the only group that prevails in the area.

The Trafficker Groups:
The society of “El Parra” with “La Yegua” suggests that since the arrest of the first, the second took the reins as main lieutenant of the totoaba fishing in San Felipe. However, several could take the place of “El Parra”, currently imprisoned for allegedly ending a military operation at dawn on December 31, 2017.
In a more discreet profile, “La Yegua” spends little time at the port, prefers to take refuge in Mexicali, where members of the Coordination Group have detected that they have homes in residential areas with restricted access. ( Gated Communities) . Because he has not characterized by the use of firearms, “La Yegua” goes unnoticed by the authorities.
Although members of the Coordination Group have not located another profile with the characteristics of “El Parra”, there are figures that could occupy it, including within their families.
Gastón Eduardo, who worked with Oscar for several years, was in charge of the supply of weapons and the purchase of equipment. In fact, the only time he was arrested, on October 12, 2017 by elements of the Gendarmerie, he had just returned from buying several pieces of  radio equipment; each costing $1,000 dollars. On that occasion, he was seized with weapons, drugs, a scale, money and equipment.
Supporting Gastón Eduardo, one of the sources consulted by  ZETA  located an individual named Alejandro Tamborillo, close to his brother, and Álvaro Jesús Ramos Sillas, known as “El Varito”, alleged leader of a small armed cell made up of his cousins ​​and friends Diego Aarón de la Fuente Sillas, Carlos Adrián Romero Bastidas, Julio Barraza Romero, who at the time was under the command of “El Parra”. This cell was captured on November 17, 2017 by municipal and ministerial elements, after perpetrating a “kidnapping” to the detriment of a rival fisherman. After a few months he regained his freedom along with all his accomplices. However, no other source supported this assertion.
The same group identifies another of the relatives of “El Parra”: Carlos Misael Ayón Montes, whom state elements located following multiple searches conducted in search of their leader; in the images obtained he is observed carrying weapons of heavy caliber.

If the business remained with the family, the intervention would probably be extended to his sister Alicia and his sentimental partner named Angel Iván Soberanes, known as “El Chucho”, one of the closest to “El Parra”. Alicia was directing the Victims of Insecurity page in San Felipe, whose main activity – they say there – is to discredit police intervention against people in her group. Through that page the video went viral where the Marinas injured García Sandez.
Other lower weight characters only identified as “El Negro” Sosa, “El Joyero” or “Los Valenzuela”, have maintained their activities on a regular basis, without being overshadowed by “El Parra”, since their operations were less in quantity.
In addition, there is intervention by unidentified criminal groups from the Gulf of Santa Clara and Bahía de los Ángeles, who have not been located in a criminal organization chart, but according to “El Parra”, have been trying for a while to seize the Plaza it protected.
In fact, some murders have been recorded in areas south of San Felipe, related to illegal fishermen’s struggles.
Parra-Ascolani Family Plieto:
According to “Parra” himself in a conversation with ministerial agents, the persecution against him originated as a result of a lawsuit with his former father-in-law Octavio Ascolani, a prominent businessman from the port of San Felipe who has repeatedly carried out campaigns for the preservation of the totoaba in coordination with institutions such as the Autonomous University of Baja California. (UNAM)
“El Parra” maintained a relationship with Monica, stepdaughter of Ascolani, with whom he had three children. According to the alleged leader of the “buche” traffic group, it would be the entrepreneur who taught him about the business and about the endemic fish until he stopped working with him in 2014.
Ascolani has been proposing strategies to the Federal and local Government for years to allow sport fishing of this specimen, since its recovery had been substantial in the last ten years, which could allow the release of Standard 059 – according to an interview for  ZETA  in 2015-, which prevails since 1974 and restricts its fishing. NOTE: Totoaba fishes  has been a massive effort, including raising and releases fry into the wild from a hatchery in La Paz, BCS.
In the information obtained by this Weekly, Parra Aispuro related with those close to the businessman to find the totoaba market, thus beginning an organization dedicated to the fishing and sale of this endemic species on a large scale.
With the family breakup, a hunt against “El Parra” would begin, who at that time already had a hundred fishermen, in addition to financing other groups to buy their own pangas and undertake illegal activities.
In this conversation, he commented that his presence in poaching was inconvenient for the intentions of Ascolani and his partners Pat Buttler, Jorge Limón and Rafael Navarro, who promote sport fishing of the species.
That is why he maintained rapprochement with police and military forces, in addition to the local government itself, to demand the arrest of “El Parra”, which led to the strengthening of the intervention of state agents and the specific attention of Colonel Nolasco, who followed his tracks.
Although he denied having links with police and military, he said that on one occasion he asked for the support of Commander Roa of the Federal Police to intervene some people who were hanging around the house where he was – they turned out to be agents of the Office of the Specialized Prosecutor in Organized Crime Investigation- ; He also indicated that he bought a vehicle from a Federal Police chief named Heredia.

                                               Your Choice in a Chinese Medicinal Market

The price of a swim bladder unit ranges between $4,000 and $8,000 dollars, depending on the weight and if it was extracted from a female, which caused an exponential growth of the mafia groups. The “buches” found an attractive market in China, for which it crossed Calexico, then to Los Angeles; There was also a route through San Pedro Mártir until reaching Tijuana, where they obtained a good price. However, it is recognized that there is a product that was sold for internal consumption, as is the case of Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, where they managed to take copies for sale for amounts up to $10,000 dollars.
FGR Will Tend to the Case:
The deputy attorney Fernando Ramírez Amador said that because they are federal officials, the assault against “El Kiki” Sandez, will be investigated by the Attorney General’s Office (FGR), in addition to being responsible for prosecuting those involved.
Although there are no fully identified alleged perpetrators, the proceedings by the State Attorney General’s Office will reach a certain point, and then deliver it to the federal authorities who will assume the case.
Regarding the allegations, the official indicated that six violations have been filed between fishermen towards sailors (Marinas) and vice versa, of which he acknowledged, some will remain in the common jurisdiction, specifically in which sailors are affected, such as the damage of vehicles of their property.
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“In previous years, poachers have let their nets drift before returning to retrieve them, enabling Sea Shepherd and the Mexican authorities which we collaborate with to make quick work of hauling them out of the Vaquita Refuge,” stated Sea Shepherd Campaigns Director Locky Maclean, concluding “this new method allows the poachers to quickly encircle an entire school of totoaba while tending the nets so they are not confiscated. The prized bladders are transferred to a “getaway skiff”, with the dead fish thrown back to sea, gutted.”

In broad daylight, less than two miles from shore in front of the otherwise sleepy town of San Felipe in the Upper Gulfo de California, Navy and Federal Inspectors were overwhelmed by the sheer number of skiffs/pangas and fishermen in the area. Sea Shepherd Campaign Leader Jean Paul Geoffroy stated: “With a total of up to 420 fishermen, and only 2 small naval speedboats able to respond, authorities were overrun, while poachers had a free-for-all.”

At 12:43pm, Captain Nick Bohnet of the M/V Sharpie, one of two former US Coast Guard cutters the Sea Shepherd operates in the region to support Mexican authorities, reported that several crew members on board heard the sound of two shots fired, believed to be small arms, near a large group of skiffs. M/V Sharpie remained at a safe distance with all non-essential personnel taking cover inside the vessel. Only four days earlier, on December 4th, Sea Shepherd suffered gunshot damage to an unmanned aerial drone while documenting illegal fishing activities in the area.

Finally, Ramírez Amador said that so far there are no elements to establish that it is an accidental occurrence and the members of the Sea Shepherd boat have not been asked for the full video where the poachers are shown escaping from the authorities. Given the characteristics of the incident, they will wait for the FGR to investigate the case, since then they will have a greater capacity for attention.
Regarding Enrique García Sandez, personnel of the Navy of Mexico offered their doctors attention to the injured, one of whom remains under special care due to the injury caused by a firearm in the head.

The only good news is that specialists reported that two baby vaquitas were recently sighted, which could mean oxygen for the survival of the species.


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