Captain Paul Watson and the crew of the ship named for author Farley Mowat have been chasing, harassing, ramming, and boarding whalers operating illegally. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society behind the Farley Mowat has waged campaigns against commercial fishing, shark poaching and finning, and seal hunting. Even Greenpeace has kicked Watson out.
Lately Sea Shepherd’s fight has been against the totoaba fishermen in the upper Sea of Cortez. to reduce illegal targeting of the endangered totoaba and save vaquita porpoises that fall victim to totoaba nets. The nets are replaced constantly by operators that can make several years’ salaries in one set. This is due to the popularity of the swim bladder (buche) of the totoaba as a folk medicine in China.
The once abundant cousin of the white seabass, the totoaba live only in the upper Sea of Cortez, and can reach six feet in length while weighing over two hundred pounds. For decades they were fished hard in the upper Sea of Cortez. Since the commercial and recreational ban in 1975, the totoaba population had stabilized in the gulf - that is until the Chinese yellow croaker population fell off and some folk-doctors on the other side of the Pacific needed another remedy for infertility, circulatory ailments, and skin problems. One swim bladder can sell for up to $50,000 on the Chinese black market.
The value of buche is enough that the drug cartels are also involved with the fishermen in the buche trade, while on the enforcement side, Mexican authorities are often called in to assist the conservationists. Guns have been drawn and shots have been fired. Expats living in the area have lost boats and motors and even their lives in what the locals feel are buche trade-related crimes. While the battle to shut down the buche trade and save the vaquita continues, the Farley Mowat is taking a break in San Diego. While here, they have scheduled free tours for the public to visit and check out the ship, this Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm and on August 25 -26 and September 1 and 2.