The totoaba, also known as the totuava, is an marine fish endemic to the northern and central Gulf of California in Mexico, and was once also found in the Colorado River delta before dams disrupted its migration. The fish is strongly linked to the indigenous Yaqui, Seri and Cucupa peoples. Its name derives from Yaqui words ‘totoli’, which means bird and ‘buaua’ (insatiable eater). It started to be sold commercially in northern Mexico around 1910 and by 1970 was aggressively exploited and exported mainly to the United States and China, where prices were high. Unfortunately, due to intensive fishing and habitat destruction the population significantly decreased and today the totoaba is classified as critically endangered species. It is listed on Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the Endangered Species Act. It must not be caught or eaten. On 16 April 2015, Enrique Peña Nieto, the President of Mexico, announced a program of rescue and conservation for the totoaba fish.
The totoaba is one of the largest fishes in the Sciaenidae family, and can reach up to six feet in length and 250 pounds in weight. From April to May the fish migrate up the Colorado delta to spawn. They feed on smaller fish and shrimps. The totoaba can live up to 19 years, but its average age of reproduction does not start until the fish are six or seven years old.
The meat of the totoaba is highly appreciated because of its flavour and texture. During Seri’s festivals the fish is caught and set aside for a while on a bed of sticks, later it is roasted slowly over an open fire and then the juices are poured into it.