Re-populating the Sea of Cortez with the endangered totuava.
On Friday afternoon, May 17th 2002, one thousand six hundred Totuava were released to the Sea of Cortez!

Dr. Tony Colleraine (Left), President of The Net, discusses the release program with U.A.B.C. (Ensenada) Staff.
The truck in the background was fitted with with oxygenated tanks to bring the 1600 fish across the peninsula to the San Felipe harbor.

David Conal True, the scientist in charge of the project from U.A.B.C., explained the process and gave statistics of this fifth reintroduction of the endangered fish. The fish were netted and transferred to water tanks on two ships of the Mexican Navy for transport into the biosphere reserve in the Sea of Cortez north of San Felipe.


The 6" (average size) totuava well taken care of by the Navy personnel & U.A.B.C. staff. The totuava is found only within this area of the Sea of Cortez ( they range over a distance of 300 miles) and was hunted almost to extinction, first because of the demand for the swim bladder for Chinese cuisine, and later for the taste of the superb meat by the American market.

Two Navy ships escorted the totuava to their new habitat and treated all aboard to a tour, refreshments, and hospitality! The spirit of cooperation was wonderful.

Octovio Ascolani, of San Felipe's SEMARNAP (Environmental & Fishing Agency) -- begins the reintroduction on the second ship.

Each of the fish has been tagged with a small plastic identification strip injected into the tongue.

The scientists hope that any fish that are caught will be able to be traced through this serial number if the fishermen dare report it. Unfortunately, Mexican law imposes severe penalties for catching these fish and this discourages the reporting process - a Catch 22 situation.

Here is a look back in history so you can see what these superb fish were like.

This picture of Tony Reyes, taken in 1957, shows five mature fish - probably 20-30 years old. Tony used to have his storefront where El Marino Liquors is now located at the very center of present-day San Felipe (where the one traffic light in town can be found!)

Here is another picture from the same era. Tony Reyes, "Papa" Gorgonio and his son Chichi are shown unloading totuava in this 1953 picture taken at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga. It was quite common for them to catch 10 such fish a day. Chichi is still living in Gonzaga.
Commercial fishing in 1942 reported a catch of 2,261 tons of totuava from the Sea of Cortez.
In 1975, the last year commercial fishing of totuava was allowed, 58 tons were caught.
You can see another early picture in this link and read an article on totoaba by Loralie Cecotti

And now - back to the present:

Back at the harbor, everyone involved felt as though they had participated in making history. We believe this is an important event which shows the excellent cooperation of the educational and research organizations, the Mexican Navy, and the government environmental agency. This program clearly serves as a new model in the development of ecotourism for this region of Mexico.

also of interest: maiden voyage of the "Tony Reyes" May 15, 2004