Federal prosecutors want a Sacramento man who smuggled endangered fish bladders into the United States from Mexico to later sell to Asia to pay $3 million in restitution. The amount would put the value of each of the 270 fish bladders Jason Xie smuggled in April at $11,375.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Pierson said the punishment is necessary to discourage others from trafficking the swim bladders of Totoaba (toe-TWAH-bah) fish, which is only found in Mexico's Sea of Cortez.
"This crime is more than just an economic crime: it is also an attack on an endangered species. ... Because the smuggling of Totoaba bladders is a growing problem along our border, the need to deter others is strong," Pierson wrote in a sentencing memo.
U-T San Diego reports (http://bit.ly/1fcVViE ) at least six other people were charged with smuggling Totoaba this year, without about 700 pounds of fish bladders seized at the border.
The fish bladders are prized in China for their purported medicinal properties and can fetch $5,000 to $10,000 apiece on the black market. The demand for Totoaba has contributed to the fish's critically endangered status. Scientists in Mexico are working to rebuild its population under a captive breeding program. The estimated cost of raising a single Totoaba to reproduction age is $11,375 — the amount being used to calculate Xie's restitution.
Court records show Xie earned about $3 million from smuggling the bladders. When he pleaded guilty in June to one count of conspiracy to smuggle the fish, he agreed to forfeit a $350,000 home in Seattle.
The restitution issue will be heard in federal court on Jan. 17.