SAN DIEGO -- A 50-year-old Chula Vista man has pleaded guilty to smuggling 100 pounds of dried sea cucumbers into the U.S. from Mexico to sell on the lucrative black market.
Cheng Zhuo Liu admitted in federal court that he smuggled the small marine animals into the U.S. in the spare tire area of his Hyundai. Black market value of the sea cucumbers was placed between $5,000 and $10,000, prosecutors said.
Liu faces a possible five years in prison and $20,000 fine when sentenced June 9.
Because of overfishing, many species of sea cucumbers are now protected by an international trade agreement. Sea cucumbers are known for their leathery skin and elongated bodies.
On the black market, a pound of dried sea cucumbers can sell for $300. As food, they are considered a delicacy. Asian folk culture also holds that they can cure multiple ailments, including cancer.
The smuggling of sea cucumbers is a problem throughout the Pacific Ocean region, particularly in India, where large-scale smuggling operations exist to take sea cucumbers to Indonesia, Japan and Sri Lanka.
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