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The Sinaloa Cartel’s Grip on the Seafood Market in Baja California

The territory of Baja California, due to its strategic location connecting Mexico with the United States, has long been a target for criminal organizations looking to traffic drugs. In addition to drug trafficking, the Sinaloa Cartel has also been involved in exploiting the fish and seafood production chain in the port of Ensenada, as revealed by a recent investigation by Zeta Tijuana.

In Ensenada, a group of extortionists led by the brothers Alfonso and René Arzate García, who operate under Ismael ‘May’ Zambada, have taken control of the fish and seafood industry. The cell known as Los Arzate established an irregular fishmonger at the intersection of Pedro Loyola Avenue and Guaymas Street, which served as the central point for buying and distributing merchandise in the industry.

Despite lacking permits and registrations, the fishmonger, formerly known as ‘Erick’s Fishmonger’, continued operating without interruption. In February 2024, the establishment was targeted in a Molotov cocktail attack, believed to be a result of internal disputes within the cartel.

According to anonymous sources, seafood and fish vendors in the area were coerced into paying monthly fees ranging from 30,000 to 60,000 pesos for protection. The cartel demanded information about others in the industry to expand their extortion network.

The criminal organization first gathered intelligence by visiting different businesses and then threatened to recruit owners and administrators to sell fish and seafood exclusively to them. They would then supply restaurants and diners with the merchandise at a premium of 5 to 15%.

As an example, an intermediary known as ‘El Porras’ charged five pesos per kilogram of shrimp sold, with an estimated daily sale of 30 tons, resulting in substantial profits for the cartel. The National Chamber of Fishing and Aquaculture Industries of Baja California received complaints about the criminal chain that covered every stage from the sea to the restaurants.

By April 2024, the Black Market in the central area was identified as the main hub for the cartel’s operations, with reports of at least a thousand extortion calls made from stalls and restaurants in the market. The violent intrusion of organized crime has forced seafood cooperative managers to seek exile in other countries due to death threats.

Despite complaints filed by port businessmen, many have faced intimidation and threats, leading to a lack of response from local authorities. The presence of the Sinaloa Cartel in the fish and seafood industry in Ensenada poses a significant challenge for businesses and authorities in the region.

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