Prosecution for a Porpoise: Strengthen U.S. Enforcement against Criminal Networks to Address International Trafficking of Endangered Species
26 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2020
Date Written: May 19, 2020
The vaquita marina is a critically endangered porpoise, only found in the Gulf of California, whose numbers have dropped precipitously over the last few years such that fewer than 20 individuals remain in the population. Their predicament is exacerbated by the fact that they are often killed as bycatch in Mexican fishing nets set out to catch totoaba, an endangered fish endemic to the same waters. The totoaba, like many other endangered species, are imperiled by the high prices they command in illegal wildlife markets in other countries. Although both vaquita and totoaba are protected by environmental regimes such as the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, efforts to apprehend and prosecute totoaba traffickers under these laws have been weak and ineffective, as have fishing bans and enforcement in Mexico.
But wildlife traffickers who trade internationally in these endangered species are committing additional crimes such as smuggling, bribery, money laundering, and even drug trafficking. Yet existing tools and resources for these financial and other crimes, which include heavier penalties than environmental crimes, often go unused by law enforcement in investigating and charging wildlife traffickers. This article argues that wildlife traffickers should be more consistently prosecuted under these financial crime tools. Moreover, financial sanctions tools available to the U.S. Treasury could be effective for rapidly cutting off funds to the organized criminal networks engaged in wildlife trafficking.
Keywords: ESA, CITES, illegal wildlife trade, financial crimes, vaquita marina, totoaba, money laundering, bribery, money laundering
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