Missouri paddlefish fingerlings still vulnerable

2 years 8 months 4 weeks ago Sunday, March 15 2015 Mar 15, 2015 Sunday, March 15, 2015 6:13:00 PM CDT March 15, 2015 in 8 Goes Green
By: By Paige Blankenbuehler, KOMU 8 Reporter

SWEET SPRINGS - As the annual paddlefish snagging season began Sunday, conservation biologists got more creative in their management strategies of the vulnerable fish.

This year, a new Missouri Department of Conservation five-year program asks anglers to report fish they snag that have numbered metal jaw tags. About 2,000 paddlefish each in the Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake and Table Rock Lake are swimming around with the tags, meant to monitor their populations.

Still, amid yearly efforts to restock and manage the populations of this prehistoric fish, a threat looms: poachers.

In 2013, a ring of caviar poachers was caught in a successful sting operation by the conservation department's protection division. The operation brought in $61,488.50 in fines for poaching the paddlefish, sometimes called Missouri's "spoonbill."

Rob Farr, an investigator with the department's protection division in Benton County, has a long history monitoring the poaching threat, which has persisted since the 1980s. Farr was on the investigative team in 2013, and said even with the latest round of fines and charges, the poaching threat to paddlefish remains a concern in Missouri.

"It was a good operation here and we caught a lot of people that needed to be caught and taught a lot of people lessons they needed to learn," Farr said. "I don't think we stopped it, no I don't - that's like saying you think you stopped the drug trade by making a drug bust. You do the best you can to contain it."

It's a cause for concern given the ongoing effort to sustain the paddlefish population.

In preparation for the 2015 season, thousands of baby paddlefish - fingerlings, as they're called - were harvested from Blind Pony Fish Hatchery in Sweet Springs in September. They were transferred to the three nearby lakes to boost their populations.

Bucket by bucket, 10-inch fingerlings moved from hatchery ponds to a conservation department truck. Department and Blind Pony Hatchery staff scooped up more than 12,000 fish at the hatchery Sept. 23 and 24 alone (watch video).

The hotspot for the poaching incidents is not far away in Benton County - the nucleus of illicit activity is in Warsaw, Mo., the so-called "paddlefish poaching capital of the world."

Trish Yasger, fisheries management biologist with the department, hopes that the new tagging program combined with restocking efforts will keep the paddlefish population intact.

"Without annual stocking by Conservation Department staff, this popular pastime and food source would go away," Yasger said in a recent news release. "We manage and monitor paddlefish populations around the state, but need help from snaggers to learn more and to better manage this popular game fish."

Paddlefish poaching, by the numbers

Larry Yamnitz protection division chief for the conservation department, oversaw the 2013 investigation alongside Farr. Yamnitz told a reporter in October that the paddlefish population in 2010 through 2013 had been "hit pretty hard illegally," but the poaching problem seems to be slowly improving.

During the 2013 sting, 11 people were arrested, accounting for 256 state charges.

Of the state charges, 240 of the 256 have been decided through Missouri courts. Most resulted in fines or minor jail sentences, Yamnitz said.

Yamnitz said six people are still awaiting trial on state charges, and there are still a few people from outside of Missouri with warrants out for their arrest

Eight people were charged and more than 100 people were also issued citations "in the bust that culminated a multi-year investigation into the illegal commercialization of Missouri paddlefish and their eggs for caviar," according to a press release by the Justice Department.

Eight defendants are involved in 16 pending federal cases.

Although most of the charges from the 2013 sting have been decided, an accelerated jury trial for Andrew Alexander Praskovsky, who was charged with two felony counts of "import or exports of fish, wildlife or plants," is set for March 30 in Jefferson City, according to a Western District of Missouri case docket.

Others facing federal charges for buying paddlefish and processing the eggs into caviar are Arkadiy Lvovskiy, 51, of Aurora, Colo.; Dmitri Elitchev, 46, of Centennial, Colo.; Artour Magdessian, 46, of Lone Tree, Colo.; Felix Baravik, 48, of Aurora, Colo.; Petr Babenko, 42, of Vineland, N.J.; and Bogdan Nahapetyan, 33, of Lake Ozark. Fedor Pakhnyuk, 39, of Hinsdale, Ill., faces charges on trying to set up a business to market processed paddlefish caviar in Chicago, the Associated Press reported.

Preserving paddlefish populations
Yamnitz considers the sting operation an important step in addressing the poaching problem.

"The investigation caught the problem and we have been able to put more paddlefish into the population," Yamnitz said in an interview in November. "We're not concerned about putting fish back in there because we think we've been successful in educating people - someone is going to turn you in if you do it."

The state's paddlefish population is healthy currently, Yamnitz said.

Still, the illegal trade has the potential for healthy payout. A pregnant paddlefish can weigh anywhere from 50 to more than 100 pounds and typically has about 20 pounds of eggs. Caviar is harvested from those eggs and sold for as much as $35 an ounce.

A single paddlefish typically nets about $4,000 worth of caviar.

The poaching problem arrived in Mid-Missouri when the Caspian Sea was exhausted of much of the world's source for the high-brow hors d'oeuvre, said Yasger, an expert on paddlefish and fisheries management.

"The Caspian Sea has been fished out, and paddlefish eggs are a good substitute," Yasger said. "Less and less of the world's caviar has been harvested there since the 1980s."

Yasger said paddlefish normally take about seven years to reach sexual maturity, although some fish take up to nine years. The bigger the fish, the more eggs it will produce. The average size ranges from 40 to 75 pounds, but paddlefish, especially females, typically reach 100 pounds or more.

The state record is a 139-pound paddlefish.

Yamnitz and Farr can only guess how much caviar poachers illegally exported over the years.

"It's difficult to say for sure, Yamnitz said. "We think we caught an active poaching group before they were able to impact the populations of paddlefish significantly."

"I agree, there's no one way of knowing," Farr said. "There would have been tremendous amount."

The snagging season runs from March 15 through April 30, but there's no guarantee the new tag program and continuous restocking will keep every spoonbill away from illegal harvesting, experts say.

"As long as there's demand for the caviar, the poaching is going to be a problem for this fish," Yasger said.

Rewards for tags

According to a press release from the conservation department, anglers who report tagged, legal-sized paddlefish will receive a t-shirt that reads: "I caught a Missouri paddlefish!"

Rewards will not be given for sublegal fish - it's illegal to catch paddlefish less than 24 inches in length.

"All returned and reported tags for the season will be placed into drawings each summer for a small number of cash prizes with a grand prize of $500," Yasger said in the press release.

Tags can be reported by calling (573)579-6825, or by mailing information to the Missouri Department of Conservation at 3815 East Jackson Boulevard., Jackson, Mo., 63755.

 

 

Related Stories

More News

Grid
List
JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens says he wants his five new appointees to the state veterans... More >>
2 days ago Monday, December 11 2017 Dec 11, 2017 Monday, December 11, 2017 10:50:00 AM CST December 11, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - Nearly four years ago to the day, local business owner Linda Bonebrake was diagnosed with severe sepsis at... More >>
2 days ago Sunday, December 10 2017 Dec 10, 2017 Sunday, December 10, 2017 6:47:00 PM CST December 10, 2017 in Continuous News
JEFFERSON CITY - Bird lovers got an up close look at birds typically seen in their backyards Sunday. It... More >>
2 days ago Sunday, December 10 2017 Dec 10, 2017 Sunday, December 10, 2017 5:36:00 PM CST December 10, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - Museums around Columbia hosted docent led tours Sunday, spreading awareness about their exhibits and art collections. Docents are... More >>
3 days ago Sunday, December 10 2017 Dec 10, 2017 Sunday, December 10, 2017 3:59:00 PM CST December 10, 2017 in Continuous News
COLUMBIA - 2017 will mark the 140th Christmas the historic Maplewood House has seen from its home in south Columbia.... More >>
3 days ago Sunday, December 10 2017 Dec 10, 2017 Sunday, December 10, 2017 3:54:00 PM CST December 10, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - MU Police Department, MU Greek Life, local businesses and residents made Operation Steal Back Christmas a huge success.... More >>
3 days ago Sunday, December 10 2017 Dec 10, 2017 Sunday, December 10, 2017 3:31:00 PM CST December 10, 2017 in News
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — After more than 20 years of providing resources and activities for home schooling, a southwest Missouri... More >>
3 days ago Sunday, December 10 2017 Dec 10, 2017 Sunday, December 10, 2017 11:38:00 AM CST December 10, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Jordan Geist, a role player known most for his scrappy style, scored 28 points Saturday night... More >>
3 days ago Sunday, December 10 2017 Dec 10, 2017 Sunday, December 10, 2017 9:39:00 AM CST December 10, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA- Alyssa Schell joined the University of Missouri Police Department as a dispatcher in February, excited to be living out... More >>
3 days ago Sunday, December 10 2017 Dec 10, 2017 Sunday, December 10, 2017 9:28:00 AM CST December 10, 2017 in News
CENTRALIA - A husband, wife and visiting grandchildren escaped a Saturday night house fire in Centralia, fire officials said. ... More >>
3 days ago Sunday, December 10 2017 Dec 10, 2017 Sunday, December 10, 2017 1:36:00 AM CST December 10, 2017 in News
KANSAS CITY (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Missouri, say an 8-year-old boy has died after being hit by a... More >>
3 days ago Saturday, December 09 2017 Dec 9, 2017 Saturday, December 09, 2017 11:35:21 PM CST December 09, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - Students, staff and community members volunteered at University Village this morning to create a community garden, with the... More >>
3 days ago Saturday, December 09 2017 Dec 9, 2017 Saturday, December 09, 2017 9:41:00 PM CST December 09, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - Columbia provides plenty of Christmas experiences for families to enjoy, but Columbia Access Television (CAT) offered a unique... More >>
4 days ago Saturday, December 09 2017 Dec 9, 2017 Saturday, December 09, 2017 3:38:00 PM CST December 09, 2017 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - When Hurricane Harvey struck Texas, the Patrick family watched news reports about the damage from their home... More >>
4 days ago Saturday, December 09 2017 Dec 9, 2017 Saturday, December 09, 2017 3:25:00 PM CST December 09, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - With two years added to his contract, Mizzou football head coach Barry Odom will remain with the Tigers... More >>
4 days ago Saturday, December 09 2017 Dec 9, 2017 Saturday, December 09, 2017 3:15:00 PM CST December 09, 2017 in News
SPRINGFIELD (AP) — The first-degree murder trial of a 28-year-old Wisconsin man charged in the stabbing death of his Missouri... More >>
4 days ago Saturday, December 09 2017 Dec 9, 2017 Saturday, December 09, 2017 3:06:46 PM CST December 09, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA- As winter approaches, cold temperatures are making their way back to Columbia, with lows this week consistently below freezing.... More >>
4 days ago Saturday, December 09 2017 Dec 9, 2017 Saturday, December 09, 2017 2:37:00 PM CST December 09, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA – Treats Unleashed hosted “Milk and Cookies” Saturday to benefit Everything Greyt, a greyhound rescue organization. Dogs and... More >>
4 days ago Saturday, December 09 2017 Dec 9, 2017 Saturday, December 09, 2017 2:28:00 PM CST December 09, 2017 in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 56°
5pm 52°
6pm 49°
7pm 46°
8pm 43°

Select a station to view its upcoming schedule:

Coming Up Next

4:30p
Jeopardy!
5:00p
KOMU 8 News @ 5
5:30p
NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt
4:30p
The Goldbergs
5:00p
American Dad!
5:30p
American Dad!

Tonight's Schedule

7:00p
The Wall
8:00p
Golden Globe 75th Anniversary Special
7:00p
Riverdale
8:00p
Dynasty
9:00p
KOMU 8 News @ Nine on The CW
9:30p
Seinfeld