New Jersey man convicted of illegally trafficking paddlefish
JEFFERSON CITY - A New Jersey man was convicted Wednesday in federal court after he was caught illegally buying and selling paddlefish in Missouri.
Petr Babenko, 45, of New Jersey was found guilty of participating in a conspiracy that led to illegally possessing and transporting paddlefish and paddlefish eggs in violation of The Lacey Act. The Lacey Act is a federal law preventing the sale or transportation of fish that have not been regulated by the state.
Babenko and other poachers have been weeded out by an undercover operation conducted in an area known as the Roadhouse in Warsaw, Missouri. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with the Missouri Department of Conservation to conduct a covert investigation called "Operation Roadhouse." Officers operated a paddlefish snagging business and sold the paddlefish to interested buyers during the 2011 and 2012 paddlefish seasons.
The caviar being produced from the involved paddlefish eggs had an estimated retail value between $30,000 and $50,000.
Babenko faces a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole and a fine up to $500,000.
The Missouri Department of Conservation introduced a tagging program this year allowing them to better track paddlefish populations. The paddlefish being monitored are at the Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake and Table Rock Lake.