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California man must pay $500K over fish bladders

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SAN DIEGO » A Sacramento man who smuggled endangered fish bladders into the United States from Mexico to later sell to Asia has been ordered to pay $500,000.

U-T San Diego reports that the restitution ordered Wednesday in federal court in San Diego was well short of the $3 million sought by prosecutors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Pierson said the stiffer punishment was necessary to discourage others from trafficking the swim bladders of Totoaba fish, which are only found in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

Jason Xie pleaded guilty to smuggling 270 of the bladders last June.

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.

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