A major joint operation with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has led to more than 100 citations and or arrests against paddlefish poachers.
Paddlefish, also known as spoonbills, are an ancient species that can reach lengths of upwards of seven feet and attain weights of several hundred pounds. For this reason, they are a coveted game fish. Unfortunately, they are also prized for their roe (caviar) which is often poached and sold in black markets the world over.
“The national and international popularity of Missouri paddlefish eggs as a source of caviar has grown dramatically in recent years,” explained MDC Protection Chief Larry Yamnitz. “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.”
Paddlefish caviar can bring big money, a single fish on the black market can earn $4,000, which is why the species is often the target of poachers.
And the best, and easiest, target is Warsaw, Missouri.
Known as the “Paddlefish Capital of the World,” Warsaw sees close to 16,000 sport paddlefish snaggers during the annual spawn on the Osage River. Spawning fish blocked from swimming up river by the Truman Dam make relatively easy targets for those willing to try their hand at snagging. While most do so legally, there are are some poachers as well.
Between March 13 and 14, a combined number of approximately 125 agents of the MDC USWFS and wildlife officers from other states contacted more than 100 suspects in Missouri, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina to issue citations and execute arrest warrants on those involved in wildlife crimes pertaining to paddlefish poaching.
Yamnitz explained the legalities involved: “Extracted paddlefish eggs may not be possessed on waters of the state or adjacent banks and may not be transported.”
Many of the issued citations were in violation of the Lacey Act, which makes it a federal crime to poach game in one state and sell in another.