Fish bladder smuggler gets 1-year sentence

Fish bladder smuggler gets 1-year sentence

By Dana Littlefield | U-T San Diego

SAN DIEGO — A man who smuggled more than 200 illegal fish bladders into the United States from Mexico was sentenced in federal court Monday to a year in custody.

Song Shen Zhen, 75, was also ordered to pay $120,500 restitution to Mexico’s environmental protection agency.

Zhen is one of at least seven people charged in separate cases last year with smuggling bladders from endangered Totoaba (toe-TWAH-bah) fish, which are native to Mexican waters but prized in China for their purported medicinal properties.

A single dried bladder can fetch up to $20,000 on the black market, prosecutors said.

Zhen was stopped at the border in Calexico, in Imperial County, on April 10, 2013, as he attempted to drive from Mexico into the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A Customs and Border Protection officer inspected the vehicle and found two plastic bags hidden under floor mats containing 27 dried bladders.

One of the bladders was seized for testing, and Zhen was allowed to leave. Agents then followed him to his house and, after obtaining a search warrant, found what appeared to be a bladder-drying factory inside, with more than 200 additional bladders laid out in rows.

In all, 241 bladders were found worth approximately $361,500 in Mexico, almost $1.3 million upon resale in the United States and $3.6 million in the overseas black market, prosecutors said.

Zhen was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff.



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