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Press Release

Federal Authorities Continue Crackdown On Smuggling Of Protected Marine Animals On Southwest Border

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

SAN DIEGO - United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced that yesterday Cheng Zhuo Liu, pled guilty to smuggling protected sea cucumbers. In pleading guilty, Liu admitted that he had smuggled 100 pounds of dried sea cucumber into the United States from Mexico on October 3, 2013, concealed in the spare tire area of his Hyundai. The smuggled sea cucumbers were members of the species Isostichopus fuscus, with a market value of between $5,000-$10,000.

According to scholarly articles, sea cucumbers are marine animals with a leathery skin and an elongated body. They are found on the sea floor worldwide with the greatest number of species being located in the Asian Pacific Ocean. Sea cucumbers serve a useful role in the marine ecosystem as they help recycle nutrients, breaking down detritus and other organic matter after which bacteria can continue the degradation process. Due to overfishing, many species of sea cucumber (including Isostichopus fuscus) are protected under Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and require a CITES permit from the country of origin and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Import/Export permit to import them into the United States. Liu admitted that he had neither permit.

Unfortunately, there is presently a thriving black market in sea cucumbers driven by demand in Asia where a pound might sell for $300. In China, the sea cucumber is used in Chinese cuisine (as Hoi Sam) as well as for medicinal purposes. Our Southwest border is not the only area where smuggling sea cucumber is a problem. India has been grappling with sea cucumbers being smuggled in large quantity to Indonesia, Japan and Sri Lanka due to its alleged medicinal properties. Similarly, in the Caribbean Sea off the shores of the Yucatàn Peninsula near fishing ports such as Dzilam de Bravo, illegal harvesting devastated the population of sea cucumbers and resulted in conflict in the community as rival gangs struggled to control the illegal harvest.

According to the American Cancer Society, although it has been used in traditional Asian folk medicine for a variety of ailments, "there is little reliable scientific evidence to support claims that sea cucumber is effective in treating cancer, arthritis, and other diseases."

Liu agreed to forfeit the sea cucumber seized as part of the case and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 9, 2014, at 9:00 a.m. before the Honorable Roger T. Benitez.

DEFENDANT   Criminal Case No. 13-CR-4347-BEN
Cheng Zhuo Liu   Age: 50 Chula Vista, California

Smuggling, a felony, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 545
Maximum Penalty: 5 years in custody, a $20,000 fine and a $100 penalty assessment


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Updated July 23, 2015