7 charged with smuggling fish bladders to China

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Seven people have been charged in a scheme to sell the bladders of an endangered Mexican fish considered a delicacy for use in Chinese soup, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The bladders from the totoaba (toe-TWAH-bah) fish can sell for more than $10,000 in some countries, the U.S. attorney's office said. Further details on the case were not immediately released.

The bladders are coveted just like shark fins in a different Asian soup.

The giant totoaba fish live exclusively in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, where they are illegally captured with gillnets when they migrate to shallow waters.

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 totoaba has been protected under the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species since 1976 and was added to the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1979. Commercial fishing is also prohibited in Mexico.

The totoaba population began to plummet in the 1940s after construction of the Hoover Dam in the U.S. limited the flow of Colorado River water into Mexico. Totoaba spawned near the mouth of the river.

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