Koi Fish

  A taxidermy fish with a slit in its side.
6” L x 1.5” W x 2” H
Accession Number:

This small, unassuming fish was at the center of a 1988 drug investigation. It nearly smuggled heroin into the United States before its hidden stash was discovered en route to a California aquarium. Along with several others, the fish had an ounce of heroin sewn into its side and was dumped into large bags of live koi in Shanghai, China. An employee preparing the fish for shipment to an aquarium in San Francisco noticed that several floated lifeless at the bottom of their bags. Upon close examination, the dead fish had suspicious stiches along their sides.

The employee alerted local authorities, and the heroin was discovered Chinese law enforcement arrested three people and DEA’s office in Hong Kong was notified. In a joint operation between DEA and the United States Customs Service, plans were made to deliver the fish to the aquarium and foil the whole plot by tracking the shipment electronically and conducting surveillance.

From this investigation, DEA successfully dismantled a multi-kilo heroin smuggling operation. But catching drug smugglers isn’t easy. Drug traffickers use whatever means necessary to move illegal drugs around the world. They hide drugs in unsuspecting places, like everyday objects, and engineer contraptions or strategies to avoid detection from law enforcement. Sadly, they also use people and animals to transport drugs with little concern for their safety or lives. Law enforcement must adapt to better anticipate and intercept illegal shipments.

Click here to view this artifact’s episode of “Stories from the Collection,” a monthly video series on the DEA Museum’s most exciting objects.