A 34-year-old Imperial County man pleaded guilty in federal court in El Centro to smuggling parts of an endangered species of fish into the U.S. to profit from a lucrative black market.
Anthony Sanchez Bueno admitted Wednesday in court that he smuggled three coolers worth of dried swim bladders from the endangered Totoaba macdonaldi, hidden under ice and fish.
The smuggling incident, involving 170 bladders weighing 225 pounds, occurred at the Calexico port of entry, prosecutors said. Bueno admitted that he had arranged to take the bladders to a man in Calexico.
The bladders are prized for use in Chinese soup and can sell for up to $5,000 apiece in the United States, twice that amount paid in markets in Asia, authorities said.
Authorities have seized 529 bladders weighing 700 pounds since February. The fish travels in shallow waters at the mouth of the Colorado River and also the east coast of the Gulf of California. The swim bladder helps control buoyancy.