Seven charged with smuggling swimbladders of endangered fish

Seven people have been charged with smuggling swimbladders of an endangered species of fish into the US, to sell on the black market.

The swimbladders came from the Giant croaker (Totoaba macdonaldi), which is a member of the drum family and comes from the Gulf of California in Mexico. This species can reach 2m in length and 100kg in weight.

Their bladders are considered a delicacy and are used in Chinese soups. They are thought to be increase fertility, circulation and skin vitality, fetching prices of up to $5,000/£3240 each in the US — and up to twice that in Asia.

Authorities have seized 529 bladders since February.

The seven people were charged in four separate complaints with unlawful importation of protected wildlife.

One of the charged, Song Shen Zhen (73), is described as having had a virtual "Totoaba factory" at his home in Imperial County, with rows of more than 200 dried swimbladders thought be worth more than $3.6 million/£2.3 million.

The Giant croaker is listed as endangered by CITES was added to the US Endangered Species Act in 1979. Fishing is also prohibited in Mexico.

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