Fish Smuggler Faces Up to 20 Years
LOS ANGELES (CN) - A California man pleaded guilty to smuggling into the United States $400,000 worth of swim bladders from endangered totoaba fish, which some Chinese men believe helps them at sex.
Anthony Sanchez Bueno, of Imperial, admitted he tried to smuggle in swim bladders of 170 protected totoaba, hidden under other fish and ice. He knew he should have declared the 225 lbs. of bladders to U.S. Customs, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement announcing his guilty plea. Sanchez admitted it was his second smuggling run, and that he had delivered the first one to an Asian man in Calexico in February, prosecutors said.
Totoaba are prized in Mexico for their taste, in China, apparently, for their supposed aphrodisiac and erectile properties.
A swim bladder helps fish rise or sink in the water, as they inflate or deflate it.
Totoaba live only in the Gulf of California aka the Sea of Cortez. They can grow to 6 feet long and more than 200 lbs. They are particularly vulnerable to being caught during their spring spawning run, when they approach the mouth of the Colorado River. Catching them during spawning exacerbates the devastation of the species.
The totoaba was protected as endangered in 1979, under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES. Mexico listed it as "in danger of extinction" in 1994.
Before it was ravaged by commercial fishing and smugglers, totoaba was one of the most important commercial fish in Mexico.
Sanchez, 34, faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison at his Sept. 6 sentencing.
His co-defendant Jason Xie is set for a hearing on June 21.