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Fisherman Dies In Upper Gulf Of California After Crash With Conservation Ship

Sea Shepherd
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
file | staff
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's patrol ship M/V Farley Mowat in the Sea of Cortez in September 2019.

A fisherman has died near the small town of San Felipe, Baja California, after his small boat crashed with a conservation ship last week. The man’s death occurred during one of a series of violent clashes between poachers and conservationists working in the Sea of Cortez to protect a small endangered porpoise.

Mario Garcia Toledo, 56, died of injuries from the crash that split the small boat in two. Another man remains hospitalized, in critical but stable condition.

"The one responsible for all of this disorder is the Mexican government," said Ramon Franco Diaz, head of a San Felipe fishermen's cooperative. "They've done nothing. They know what's happening, so I don't know why they don't step in."

He said the Mexican government’s refusal to crack down on rampant poaching — instead placing harsher restrictions on legal fishingin the region — has created chaos in the Upper Gulf of California that has erupted in growing violence and lawlessness.

The boat that crashed was one of several small vessels called pangas that attacked two Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ships with Molotov cocktails and other projectiles last week while the crew were pulling up illegal fishing nets in a refuge area, according to a statement from the conservation group.

The nets are used to catch totoaba — a large fish whose swim bladder is extremely valuable on the black market in Asia. But those nets also also trap and drown the nearly extinct vaquita marina porpoise. There are only an estimated 10 vaquita left.

This is not the first time conflict has broken out between conservationists and alleged poachers in the vaquita refuge area. In recent years there have been numerous such attacks, with several just within the past month.

Last year another suspected poacher was shot by the Mexican navy in what officials called "an accident."

Kendal Blust was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2018 to 2023.