US seeks $3 million from swimbladder smuggler

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Federal prosecutors want a man who smuggled the swimbladders of critically endangered fish into the US from Mexico to pay $3 million in restitution to the Mexican government.

Jason Xie from Sacramento smuggled 270 swimbladders of Totoaba macdonaldi, which is a protected species from Mexico's Sea of Cortez, with the intention of selling them to China where they are believed to boost fertility and improve the skin — and where a single dried bladder can fetch up to $10,000/£6265 on the black market.

Xie was sentenced to four months in prison at his trial in October, but now US prosecutors want him to pay $3 million/£1.88m in restitution. It's intended to send a strong message to other smugglers of Totoaba bladders, which is seen as a growing problem.

The fine would put the value of the swimbladders smuggled by Vie at $11,375/£7125 each — which is the estimated cost of raising a single Totoaba to reproduction age in a captive breeding programme in Mexico, run by scientists trying to re-build the population.

Court records show Xie earned about $3 million from smuggling the swimbladders to China.

The restitution issue will be heard in federal court in January next year.

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