DZILAM DE BRAVO, Mexico — Whispers of high-speed boat chases, harpoon battles on the open sea and divers who dived deep and never re-emerged come and go around here like an afternoon gale.    

Sea cucumbers are counted and measured to determine the effect of a fishing ban.

The fishermen eye strangers — and one another — with deep suspicion. “We’ll tear them apart,” said one, Jorge Luis Palma, squinting into the horizon at a boat he did not recognize.

What has wrapped this village in such hostility?

Sea cucumbers.

The spiky, sluglike marine animals are bottom feeders that are not even consumed in Mexico, but they are a highly prized delicacy half a world away, in China, setting off a maritime gold rush up and down the Yucatán Peninsula. 

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