Missouri paddlefish fingerlings still vulnerable

4 years 7 months 6 days 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- According to Missouri KidsFirst, almost one in ten kids will be sexually abused by the time they are... More >>
2 hours ago Monday, October 21 2019 Oct 21, 2019 Monday, October 21, 2019 7:37:00 AM CDT October 21, 2019 in News
JEFFERSON CITY — Attorney General Eric Schmitt is set to host four senior safety presentations in October. The presentations,... More >>
13 hours ago Sunday, October 20 2019 Oct 20, 2019 Sunday, October 20, 2019 8:43:00 PM CDT October 20, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - More than 600 people and 11 sponsors gathered in Cosmo Park for the annual Walk to End Alzheimer's... More >>
17 hours ago Sunday, October 20 2019 Oct 20, 2019 Sunday, October 20, 2019 4:53:00 PM CDT October 20, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA — David Cover, a co-pastor at The Crossing, addressed the controversy over last week's sermon by fellow co-paster... More >>
17 hours ago Sunday, October 20 2019 Oct 20, 2019 Sunday, October 20, 2019 4:03:00 PM CDT October 20, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA — Columbia police arrested a man on multiple charges after the shooting of a 13-year-old boy Saturday night. ... More >>
20 hours ago Sunday, October 20 2019 Oct 20, 2019 Sunday, October 20, 2019 1:15:00 PM CDT October 20, 2019 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - One person was transported to the hospital in relation to a weapons offense Sunday morning, according to... More >>
22 hours ago Sunday, October 20 2019 Oct 20, 2019 Sunday, October 20, 2019 11:27:00 AM CDT October 20, 2019 in News
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Children in St. Louis have been the victim of homicides at 10 times the national rate... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, October 19 2019 Oct 19, 2019 Saturday, October 19, 2019 9:34:54 PM CDT October 19, 2019 in News
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says he is reversing his plan to hold the next Group of Seven world... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, October 19 2019 Oct 19, 2019 Saturday, October 19, 2019 9:19:49 PM CDT October 19, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Police were seen searching the area near the scene of a crash Saturday afternoon. Police responded to... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, October 19 2019 Oct 19, 2019 Saturday, October 19, 2019 8:31:00 PM CDT October 19, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Community members came together Saturday for a Walk and Roll-A-Thon in recognition of Disability Employment Awareness Month. ... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, October 19 2019 Oct 19, 2019 Saturday, October 19, 2019 5:11:00 PM CDT October 19, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Demonstrators rallied at Speakers Circle on Saturday for the first ever National Period Day. Organizers said they... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, October 19 2019 Oct 19, 2019 Saturday, October 19, 2019 3:47:00 PM CDT October 19, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Community members got the chance to challenge Columbia police officers in their favorite video games during the department's... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, October 19 2019 Oct 19, 2019 Saturday, October 19, 2019 3:41:00 PM CDT October 19, 2019 in News
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Grassroots organizations are working across Missouri to persuade gun-related business owners to join efforts to limit... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, October 19 2019 Oct 19, 2019 Saturday, October 19, 2019 3:37:00 PM CDT October 19, 2019 in News
SALINE COUNTY — Three Saline County children abducted in 2017 were found in Arlington, Texas on Thursday, according to the... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, October 19 2019 Oct 19, 2019 Saturday, October 19, 2019 2:15:00 PM CDT October 19, 2019 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - One Lincoln man is dead following a crash between a motorcycle and a tractor-trailer Friday night on... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, October 19 2019 Oct 19, 2019 Saturday, October 19, 2019 1:19:00 PM CDT October 19, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - The Columbia Water and Light department said it believes all power has been restored in Columbia. About... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, October 19 2019 Oct 19, 2019 Saturday, October 19, 2019 10:05:00 AM CDT October 19, 2019 in News
MARSHALL - The suspect in a pair of shootings in early October has been caught out of state, police announced... More >>
2 days ago Friday, October 18 2019 Oct 18, 2019 Friday, October 18, 2019 9:10:00 PM CDT October 18, 2019 in News
CALIFORNIA - A man heard his sentence on Friday after killing a 20-year-old three years ago for drunk driving. ... More >>
2 days ago Friday, October 18 2019 Oct 18, 2019 Friday, October 18, 2019 6:31:00 PM CDT October 18, 2019 in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 53°
10am 56°
11am 57°
12pm 57°
1pm 58°