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Imperial County man admits smuggling endangered fish for black market

June 12, 2013|By Tony Perry
  • Harvested totoaba fish bladders drying, seized in a smuggling case at the Calexico port of entry. U.S. border inspectors in Calexico have seized 529 bladders since February that they believe were destined for China and Hong Kong.
Harvested totoaba fish bladders drying, seized in a smuggling case at the… (Associated Press / U.S.…)

A 34-year-old Imperial County man pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in El Centro to smuggling parts of an endangered species of fish into the U.S. to profit from a lucrative black market.

Anthony Sanchez Bueno admitted that he smuggled three coolers worth of dried swim bladders from the endangered Totoaba macdonaldi, hidden under ice and fish.

The smuggling incident, involving 170 bladders weighing 225 pounds, occurred at the Calexico port of entry, prosecutors said. Bueno admitted that he had arranged to take the bladders to a man in Calexico.

The bladders are prized for use in Chinese soup and can sell for up to $5,000 apiece in the United States, twice that amount paid in markets in Asia, authorities said.

Authorities have seized 529 bladders weighing 700 pounds since February. The fish travels in shallow waters at the mouth of the Colorado River and also the east coast of the Gulf of California. The swim bladder helps control buoyancy.

Among its devotees, Totoaba macdonaldi's meat is thought to aid in fertility and skin vitality. Bueno is set to be sentenced in September. The maximum sentence is 20 years in prison.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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