The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has reduced totoaba (totaba macdonaldi) from being a critically endangered species to vulnerable. This is based on fish population surveys carried out by INAPESCA (National Fishing and Aquaculture Institute) and steps to remove illegal gillnets from the Upper Gulf of California.
The INAPESCA study used as reference by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), determined the total average mass of totoaba in the Sea of Cortez was 19,294 tons in 2018. These findings led to the recommendation of moving totoaba from the “At risk of Extinction” to “Threatened” on the Official Mexican Norm 059. Similarly, the change in status on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species may lead to a national reclassification of the totoaba, and eventual opening up to export.
The IUCN indicated preventing poaching and use of illegal gillnets is a constant challenge in the Upper Gulf of California, which is also the habitat of the critically endangered vaquita marina.
From 2016 to 2020, NGOs such as Sea Shepherd and the Whale and Sea Science Museum have coordinated with the Mexican government on steps to remove “ghost nets” from the Sea of Cortez. During these five years, nearly 1260 nets measuring up to 1.2 kms long and 9 meters high have been removed from the critical area. In addition, from 2013 to 2020 a reported 6,545 of the highly sought after yet illegal totoaba swimbladders were confiscated in Mexico, the U.S., Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan.