Charges shed light on sea cucumber smuggling at US border

This NOAA satellite image taken Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016 at 12:45 PM EDT shows Tropical Storm Earl 210 miles south of Grand Cayman with maximum winds of 50 miles per hour. Earl is moving west at 22 miles per hour towards the Yucatan Peninsula. To the east, high pressure brings mostly sunny skies to the eastern Caribbean Sea. (Weather Underground via AP)

SAN DIEGO (AP) – Charges against a father-son partnership for allegedly smuggling more than $17 million worth of sea cucumbers to the United States and exporting them to Asia shed light on a growing and lucrative illegal cross-border trade.

David Mayorquin and his father, Ramon Torres Mayorquin, are accused of buying the illegally harvested animals from poachers in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, paying for them under fake names and underestimating their weight and value to inspectors at San Diego’s Otay Mesa border crossing. From San Diego, they allegedly shipped the product to Asia, including Taiwan, where they are delicacies in Chinese dishes, prized for medicinal value and considered an aphrodisiac.

Border inspectors have spotted smuggled Mexican sea cucumbers for years, but the charges are striking for the multi-ton shipments described. Authorities say they sell for $300 to $500 a kilogram in Asia, helping explain the draw for poachers and smugglers.