7 charged with smuggling fish bladders to China

SAN DIEGO (AP) – Seven people have been charged with smuggling bladders from an endangered fish in what authorities said Wednesday may be a growing international practice in which the bladders are sold for up to $20,000 each to be used in a highly desired soup.

U.S. border inspectors in Calexico have seized 529 bladders since February that they believe were destined for China and Hong Kong. The probe began when an inspector spotted about 30 bladders buried in an ice chest.

The bladders came from totoaba fish that live exclusively in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Also known as Mexican giant bass or giant croaker, the fish can measure up to 7 feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds. The cream-colored, leathery bladders alone measure up to 3 feet.

The fish are captured with gillnets when they migrate in the spring to the shallow waters in the northern Sea of Cortez, authorities said. The gas-filled bladders, which keep the fish buoyant, are removed and taken to stash houses along the border, with the fish carcasses left to rot on gulf shores near the tourist town of San Felipe.

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