Millions Worth of “Cocaine of the Sea” Seized Coming Into America

Millions Worth of

( – Arizona customs officers have seized millions of dollars’ worth of contraband hidden in a shipment of frozen fish. Although what they found is nicknamed “cocaine of the sea,” it isn’t a drug — it’s the swim bladder of an endangered fish. Unfortunately, some people think it is a drug, so the profits from smuggling it can be huge.

The totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) used to be a common fish in the Gulf of California, but overfishing and the impact of the Hoover Dam — the fish only spawns in the Colorado River delta — mean it’s now endangered. Mexico banned fishing for the totoaba in 1975, and since then, the only legal source of the fish, which can grow to 220 pounds and over six feet long, is a commercial farming industry in Baja, California.

Sadly, followers of traditional Chinese medicine believe the swim bladder of the closely related Chinese bahaba can treat a variety of health issues; now that the bahaba has almost been wiped out by illegal fishing, Chinese organized crime has turned to the totoaba as a substitute.

Totoaba swim bladders can weigh over a pound — and sell for up to $20,000 each.

On June 12, Customs and Border Patrol in Nogales, Arizona, announced they’d been inspecting a shipment of frozen fish fillets when, hidden among them, they found 270 totoaba swim bladders with an estimated value of $2.7 million. CBP said it’s the largest seizure of totoaba bladders in Arizona so far and the second largest in the US.

Now the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Homeland Security are working with CBP to investigate the find. Although it might not seem serious compared to the drug trade, the smuggling of animal parts for Chinese traditional medicine is still a deadly business. With so much money at stake, the smugglers are willing to kill to protect their business.

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