A Chula Vista man is facing a possible prison term and tens of thousands of dollars in fines for smuggling 100 pounds of sea cucumbers, a protected species, into the United States from Mexico.

Cheng Zhuo Liu, 50, pleaded guilty to the felony crime in federal court in San Diego on Thursday, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A Galápagos Sea Cucumber, Isostichopus fuscus. Courtesy Henry Nicholls via Wikimedia Commons

Liu admitted that he smuggled the dried echinoderms, members of the species Isostichopus fuscus, across the international border last October, concealed in the spare-tire area of his Hyundai.

The poached ocean creatures, which are used in food and for medicinal purposes, had a market value of between $5,000 and $10,000, prosecutors said.

Due to overfishing, many types of sea cucumber are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. To bring them into the United States requires permits from the country of origin and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Liu admitted that he had secured neither approval.

The defendant, who agreed to forfeit the sea cucumbers seized in the case, is in line for a maximum penalty of five years in custody a $20,100 fine when he is sentenced June 9.

— City News Service

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.