WARSAW, MO (KMOX) – Officials with the Missouri Department of Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say they have uncovered and targeted a paddlefish poaching ring in western Missouri.
According to a news release sent by MDC officials Thursday, the undercover operations resulted in “100 suspects from Missouri and eight other states being issued citations and/or arrest warrants for state and federal crimes related to paddlefish poaching.”
Launched two years ago and completed Thursday, the operation involved 85 MDC agents and 40 special agents at the USWFS along with officials from other states. According to officials, eight of the 100 suspects were “indicted for federal crimes involving the illegal trafficking of paddlefish and their eggs for use as caviar.”
Paddlefish can grow to seven-feet in length and weigh more than 160 pounds. They are valued as a sport fish, for eating, and for their eggs which are sold in the national and international illegal caviar markets.
“The national and international popularity of Missouri paddlefish eggs as a source of caviar has grown dramatically in recent years,” MDC Protection Chief Larry Yamnitz said in the release. “This is a result of European sources of caviar having declined from overfishing of the Caspian Sea’s once plentiful and lucrative beluga sturgeon, another species of fish known for its caviar.
“Caviar prices in illegal or black markets also vary. A common black-market price is about $13 an ounce. Therefore, a single large female paddlefish with about 20 pounds of eggs is carrying about $4,000 worth of potential caviar for black market sales.”
According to Yamnitz, the undercover operation began with a tip from local residents in Warsaw, Missouri.
“Individuals from the Warsaw area first alerted us to potential paddlefish poaching in the area,” Yamnitz said. “We are grateful to them, and encourage anyone spotting suspected illegal fishing or hunting activity to contact their local conservation agent.”