Convicted smuggler of prized fish bladders gets 1-year prison term

A Calexico man was sentenced to a year in prison for smuggling prized Totoaba fish bladders into the U.S. for sale on the black market. Above, a Totoaba fish.
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

A 75-year-old Calexico man was sentenced Monday to a year in federal prison after being convicted of smuggling 241 fish bladders into the U.S. to sell on the lucrative black market.

Song Shen Zhen was arrested in April 2013 after authorities at the border crossing in Imperial Valley found 27 fish bladders hidden in his car and an additional 214 at his nearby home.

The bladders were from the endangered Totoaba fish, which is protected by environmental laws in the U.S. and Mexico. The fish is native only to the Gulf of California.

The Totoaba fish bladders are prized in Asia and the U.S. as ingredients for soup, as well as for supposed medicinal and cosmetic purposes. An individual bladder can bring up to $5,000 in the U.S., according to court documents.


At Zhen’s home, authorities found drying fans and packaging materials that could be used to ship the bladders overseas, prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff also ordered Zhen to pay $120,500 in restitution to the Mexican environmental protection agency.

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