The Fish Story

Colombian Cartel High on Totoaba Fish; Little Egg Harbor, Manahawkin Bay Losing Identity

By JAY MANN | Oct 03, 2018

It might be the ultimate indicator in how valuable smuggling animal parts can be. One of the highest-ranking members of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel was recently arrested for complicity in a fish-harvesting network that used heavily armed go-fast boats to run totoaba fish bladders for sale overseas. Even I can’t make up sh…tuff this insane.

The insanity begins with the illegal maze of nets being used to bag totoabas in the Gulf of Mexico. The remorseless net network represents end times for the very few remaining vaquita porpoises that live therein. How very few? It’s thought that maybe 30 of these critically endangered marine mammals remain. No, that’s not 30 as in 30,000 but 30 as in been nice knowing ya.

But the bycatch killing of the last of these porpoises all but pales in insanity when compared to the tale of the totoaba bladders. Once removed from the hosting fish and shipped to – where else? – China, a single bladder brings $30,000 on the fully freaky traditional medicine market. It’s hard to seriously call totoaba bladders traditional since their alleged magicalness is a mere few-years old. I refuse to go into what a line of totoaba bladder powder is supposed to do when inhaled. I envision our buy-anythingers frantically making orders to China. You can kiss those last vaquitas adios.

But to me, the top madness is how a filthy rich drug kingpin, known only as “El Parra” – roughly translated as “the clinging vine” – opts to deal in smuggling bladders, as if the old billion-dollar standby, cocaine, is passé. I guess it makes some sense in a black money way. According to an article in, “Mexican and U.S. officials have called the totoaba bladder ‘aquatic cocaine.’ It’s often more expensive, with about two pounds of dried bladder routinely selling for as much as three and a half pounds of the powder drug.” Imagine a street-level hustle in China whereby alleged bladder powder is covertly replaced with mere cocaine – a drug you can get busted for in the Orient. “I tell ya, officer, I thought it was totoaba bladder powder!”

Anyway, it remains to be seen if a recently captured El clinging vine will be going down big time for endangered species violations on par with the sentencing of an apex drug smuggler. Even if he doesn’t get hung out to dry for vaquita killing activities, he’s also up for some slighter crimes, like a slew of homicides.

FYI: Illegal trading in protected wildlife body parts, along with the smuggling of living creatures for latter harvesting of internal organs, is easily worth $2 billion in the U.S. It ratchets up to a $23 billion value on a global scale, vying for a top spot among the planet’s most illicit trades. Hard to believe, but little old NJ has had – and likely still has – smuggling rings dealing in the snatching and worldwide selling of our rarest plants and wildlife, most notably endangered herptile species, like Pine Barrens tree frogs. I once reported on the uncovering and bust of one such ring by the NJDEP.

“I’M READY FOR BOILING, DUDE”: I know you’ve heard about this … but not from me.

Getting lobsters and other live-boiled crustaceans stoned on cannabis during the cooking process is both novel and, in a distantly distorted sense, humane. That distantly admitted, one must wonder exactly what degree of stonedness is needed prior to being immersed in 212-degree-plus water. It is a question for the ages, one that even the ancient Greeks sidestepped by saying, “There is no telling until we walk a mile in its carapace,” meaning it was time for wine and, yep, Mediterranean lobster. Interestingly, many Greeks were sworn vegetarians, though I’ve noticed that anything that wasn’t “earth” or “air” could be deemed a vegetable.

Personally, I think that first narcotizing living seafood is not such a bad pre-boil approach. And it could be a viable option should NJ pass proposed legislation allowing marijuana to be purchased through the mail. Pondering that subject in a more human vein, just imagine Amazon “Prime” grabbing a chunk of that business … by delivering pot via drones. Stoners will think they’ve died and gone to Jersey heaven … with deliveries arriving from above. “Dude, turn down Ozzy! I think it’s here! I hear the buzz … Hey, that’s kinda funny, isn’t it, you know, hearing the ‘buzz’ and all. … Quick, gimme a couple bucks to tip the drone driver.” Uh, Ted, better let me explain the whole drone concept to ya.

On another personal note, the older I get, the more I’m becoming sensitized to even steaming the clams I’ve dug – in a mildly bonding sorta “hey, there” way. Nowadays, when the steam finally clears, the only thing I see are their tortured tongues sticking out at me, all message-like. Hell, if they had middle fingers. Just sayin’. What’s more, it’s tough trying to dip them into melted butter … without looking at them.

So, might placing a slew of pot leaves in the clam pot make them open up with smiles on their tongues? I’m not sure about that, but I’ll bet the gang at clambakes will be kinda laidback from a steamed clam contact-high. I can see where eating clams on the half-shell would offer a quicker coup de grâce, though surviving until a stomach acid bath would hardly be a swim in the park.

All that fretted over, I’m betting you’d have to fully opiate blue claw crabs to first knock the nasty out of them before boiling. At the same time, Big Pharma could see such a preparation as yet another way to sell more opioids. I can already see boiling-pot ads for Oxycrabine. Wow, did this topic reach a political boil quickly.

WHERE AM I?: An email from Deb W.:

Jay, why do we continue to inaccurately refer to our Bay at the south end of LBI as Barnegat Bay? While it is part of the Barnegat Bay Estuary (as is Manahawkin Bay) it is Little Egg Harbor Bay.

Preaching to the choir, Deb. I even differentiate “Manahawkin Bay” from that overriding classification of a big-ass “Barnegat Bay.”

The creeping name expansion began with the parameters set for the Barnegat Bay (National) Estuary Program, covering the Barnegat Bay Ecosystem and Watershed. The feds concisely call it the Barnegat Bay Complex. Whichever, it includes Barnegat Bay, Manahawkin Bay and Little Egg Harbor. B-Bay’s three inlets are the Manasquan Inlet in the north, with Barnegat Inlet and Little Egg Inlet in the south.

When the all-encompassing “Barnegat Bay” came into common usage, I fought it by warning that confusion could arise should a mariner report an emergency on the “south part of Barnegat Bay.” Localized first-responders would logically rush to the Barnegat Inlet area – when the emergency is down off Little Egg Inlet. I got a rather rote response that it will remain “Little Egg Harbor,” simply part of the “Barnegat Bay Estuary System.”

My frets have proven unfounded, helped along by advances in GPS. The wide-ranging “Barnegat Bay” moniker for all bay waters west of LBI has become entrenched. I’d still advise clarifying that your boat is sinking in “Little Egg Harbor.”

In this column, I always use the given/historic bay names, unless referring to an overriding ecological or environmental policy covering the entire Barnegat Bay Estuary System. Again, here’s hoping mariners are bay-name-specific should they need help. That name specificity might be something for the Coast Guard auxiliaries to emphasize during their instructional classes.

TERMINAL GROIN INFO: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has apparently agreed to the “repair” of Wooden Jetty, providing all work stays within the existing groin footprint, implying no terminal groin love from FWS for now.

As to what might be seen earlier than later, the placement of steel sheathing could come somewhat quickly. As I’ve read it, that would entail the driving down of huge sheets of steel to act as a sand stoppage. Since such sheathing would also be part of a larger groin, it doesn’t preclude Long Beach Township seeking the terminal groin.

I’ll bet that the allowable “repair” work might include the removal of existing pilings and the importation of new rocks. It’s when the existing groin footprint is exceeded, as in terminally exceeded, that I foresee a locking of township/state/federal horns.

By the by, the washover erosion problem in the north part of Holgate has never been worse. More on that troubling eating away of LBI in next week’s column.

RUNDOWN: The somewhat easier-going wind and weather pattern is allowing loads of anglers to work on 74-degree ocean waters. Bluefish continue to overly abound. I’m hearing a bluefish per cast during some flurries. Most are 1 to 3 pounds, tops. In Holgate, I’ve been grabbing slightly larger ones, just large enough to get decent fillets from, for jerky.

Can’t fathom why, but the blues I’m catching are running super thin, spring-like, despite our seeing one of the largest mullet runs in years, maybe even decades. It would seem the blues have plenty of mullet meat to feast upon. The fact my surface plug is getting voraciously pounced upon proves that mullet must be far more elusive than their packed-in numbers might suggest. When we have forage like rainfish, the blues can get so fat and engorged they have those little baitfish coming out their gullets. As I’ve cleaned my blues, I’ve yet to find a single mullet in any of their bellies.

I nabbed a one-hand striper, i.e. a bass that you can wrap a hand around to unhook. However, he was fat as all get-out, proving stripers have a more diversified and readily available diet than skinny, high-amp blues.

GETTIN’ CLASSY WID IT: While we remain thoroughly stuck in a warm-water, tiny-striper pattern, any bass of legal size could be a big winner if entered into the LBI Surf Fishing Classic, which kicks off this coming weekend and runs clear through Dec. 9. That’s a lotta contest for a measly-low entry fee.

If you’re a Classic regular, thanks for keeping up the “derby” tradition. If you’re a first-timer, consider yourself an instant traditionalist. Just don’t first catch a fish and then sign up to weigh it in. That's very verboten.

By the by, the special Classic Long Beach Township beach buggy permits begin Oct. 6. They’re the same price this year, even though the event is now nine weeks long.

A quick thanks to the folks at the LBT Police Department headquarters for being so ready and willing to sign folks up for buggy permits: highly professional. As repayment, let’s make sure to strictly abide by the rules of beach buggying, beginning with first getting one of those permits before driving on.

I will advise, for the record, that the unposted/legal speed remains at 15 mph. I recall there was an effort to increase it to 20 mph, but I’m not sure how that played out. Simply put: Keep it slow. Importantly, these warm air and ocean temps will have many a beachgoer pushing the season. Beachgoers always have the right of way, even when acting goofily.

When running dogs come into play on the beach, give wide berth/lee to same. In fact, steer as far away as practical from those four-legged frolickers. Folks walking dogs can be highly sensitive to buggies. What’s more, if a dog bolts toward your buggy, as can often happen, DO NOT accelerate. Come to a complete stop. Pet owners are almost always there in a Fido flash. Being a dog person, I’ve been known to get out and meet the pup, holding it in-place if a panicked owner can’t get the dog to “come!” I’ll also keep dog biscuits at the ready. I’ve never had a cat run after my buggy, thus no need to keep catnip onboard.

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