After a year-long stakeout, six men have been charged with 57 violations in a caviar poaching ring that killed over 250 shovelnose sturgeon. The poachers were ordered to pay a total of $7,800 in wildlife restitution fees and $1,450 in fines. They also face up to two years probation and the revocation of fishing and hunting privileges for up to ten years.

The investigation began in the spring of 2019 when the agency received a tip that poachers were illegally taking shovelnose sturgeon from the Mississippi River. Over the next year, conservation officers and wardens—disguised as shoreline fisherman—logged hundreds of hours of surveillance to document the violations.

The team found that the six poachers harvested caviar from the females after hauling the illegally-caught fish home in trash bags. They also threw the carcasses of both male and female fish back into the river after cutting them open at the abdomen to check for the presence of caviar.

Vladimiras Parsikovas, Soma Miller, Artyom Miller, Sergej Jestrebov, and Viktor Parsikovas, all from Wisconsin, and Pioter Miller from Texas, were charged by the Houston County Attorney’s Office with a variety of crimes and violations. Charges include taking gross over-limits of wild animals, wanton waste, angling with more than two unattended lines, and improperly transporting game from state to state. 

All six violators pleaded guilty to the charges last year and the final cases were resolved this spring. Four of the poachers were given 6 to 24 months of probation each. Three of the men had all fishing and hunting privileges revoked for ten years. Another saw his fishing privileges revoked for three years.

The shovelnose sturgeon is a freshwater species native to the Mississippi and Missouri River basins. It’s considered threatened due to its similarity in appearance to the pallid sturgeon, an endangered species. Its eggs sell for $45 to $100 an ounce as caviar, though it’s illegal to harvest the fish for commercial purposes. 

Related: California Sturgeon Poachers Busted in Investigation of Massive Black Market Caviar Ring

“This case is a great example of teamwork across states, agencies and the county prosecutor’s office,” said MDNR Conservation Officer Tyler Ramaker, lead investigator on the case. “[It] sends a clear message that wildlife crimes will not be tolerated.” MDNR fisheries manager

Brad Parsons echoed Ramaker’s sentiments. “We put regulations in place in order to protect fish populations and ensure their sustainability into the future,” Parsons said. “Situations like this, especially when they involve slow-growing species like shovelnose sturgeon that may spawn just three or four times in their lifetime, really do have the potential to affect everyone’s ability to use and enjoy our natural resources.”

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