Conservation Connection: Paddlefish Poaching

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(KPLR) - Caviar, Missouri, and conservation?  What do all these have in common?  It turns out a major paddlefish poaching bust brought all these together last week in Warsaw, Missouri.  Protection Supervisor Chris Morrow is here to report on what might the Show-Me-State`s largest wildlife crime case.
Q. Tell was what happened last week?

  • Missouri Department of Conservation agents and federal conservation agents recently uncovered a multi-state and international poaching operation involving the illegal purchase, resale and transport of Missouri paddlefish, and their eggs for use as caviar in domestic and foreign markets.
  • The poaching operation was targeted out of the Warsaw, Missouri, area and the section of the Osage River that runs along it.

Q.  When did this operation take place?

  • Over the course of March 13 and 14, MDC law enforcement agents, 40 special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and wildlife officers from eight other states contacted more than 100 suspects in Missouri and eight other states, including Illinois, to issue citations and/or arrest warrants for state and federal crimes related to paddlefish poaching.
  • This was the result of a 2 year undercover investigation that ran during the spring 2011 and spring 2012 paddlefish season during March and April.

Q.  Why are paddlefish eggs so valuable?

  • The popularity of Missouri paddlefish eggs as a source of caviar has grown dramatically in recent years as European sources have declined from overfishing of the Caspian Sea`s beluga sturgeon.

Q. What kind of value are we talking about?

  • Paddlefish eggs can bring 13 dollars an ounce on the black market
  • An average female paddlefish holds 20 pounds of eggs
  • A total of $4,000 worth of potential sales on the black market

Q.  How did you find out about this illegal activity in the first place?

  • Missourians care about their fish and wildlife
  • Concerned citizens provided us information on possible poaching in the area, which helped initiate the investigation

Q.  What should viewers do if they suspect or see a wildlife violation?

  • Call Operation Game Thief at 1-800-392-11-11
  • Or contact your local Conservation Agent