Paddlefish poaching probe nets son-in-law of Indiana 'caviar king'
The American paddlefish has long been sought for its tasty flesh and roe, or eggs. Overfishing a century ago hurt the species, however, and it now faces new threats. Wochit
A years-long wildlife poaching investigation that sent Indiana caviar king David Cox to federal prison in 2018 has now netted Cox’s son-in-law.
Joseph Schigur of English pleaded guilty Tuesday to violating the federal Lacey Act in connection with three outings on the Ohio River in 2015 and 2016. During those fishing trips, Schigur and a conservation officer working undercover hauled in more than 100 paddlefish from water closed to commercial fishing.
The criminal case was filed in April by federal prosecutors in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
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The American paddlefish, an odd-looking prehistoric creature found in the Ohio River, provides a high-quality substitute to the caviar from European beluga sturgeon, which has become more scarce due to overfishing.
Federal prosecutors said Schigur obtained about 1,400 pounds of fish meat and 72 pounds of caviar from the three fishing trips in waters controlled by the state of Ohio, which does not allow the commercial harvest of paddlefish.
Indiana and Kentucky both have commercial seasons for Ohio River paddlefish and also license roe sellers. The 2020-2021 season closed April 30.
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After netting the fish in the prohibited area, prosecutors said he took them back to his business, Ohio Valley Caviar LLC., in English. There, he removed the roe from the females and processed it into caviar. The fish meat was then cut into small pieces called “bullets” and frozen. Most of the caviar and meat was sold to buyers in New York City, prosecutors said.
To cover his tracks, Schigur falsified monthly reports “by claiming he caught the paddlefish in Kentucky waters,” according to a statement issued by the United States Department of Justice.
The statement said Schigur faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and possible restitution to the state of Ohio.
Schigur pleaded guilty in 2016 to a federal misdemeanor for lying about his address on a Kentucky fishing license application. He was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. Authorities also confiscated nearly 1,000 pounds of caviar from his business at that time.
Schigur is married to the daughter of David Cox. One of Indiana’s most successful and colorful caviar fishermen, Cox was sentenced to two years in federal prison in 2018. Cox, who had a prior Lacey Act conviction, pleaded guilty to keeping a paddlefish smaller than allowed by Indiana law and possessing firearms after being convicted of a prior felony.
Charges in both cases came out of the same investigation that began in 2014 and at times involved an Indiana conservation officer who worked undercover as a deckhand for both Cox and Schigur. An Indiana Department of Natural Resources spokesman did not immediately respond to questions from IndyStar about the two cases.
Cox was released from prison last year, but is banned from commercial fishing and caviar processing for three years. He declined to comment.
At the time of his arrest in 2017, the website for Cox’s caviar business boasted of his central role in the industry: “For the past few years,” it said, “MIDWEST CAVIAR has caught half of the harvest reported being caught in Kentucky and Indiana.”
An IndyStar investigation in 2019 revealed Cox and Schigur were among the most prolific of Indiana’s small handful of caviar fisherman. From 2010-2017, Schigur and his wife caught or bought more than 20,000 pounds of paddlefish caviar, while the Coxes caught or bought more than 5,000 pounds.
Combined, nearly 15 tons of caviar passed through their two processing plants in Crawford County from 2010-2017. The wholesale value of the caviar was more than $4 million — and $12 million or more on the retail market.
A sentencing date for Schigur, who declined through a family member to comment on the case, has not be set.
Contact Tim Evans at 317-444-6204 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @starwatchtim.
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Published at Thu, 27 May 2021 10:51:58 +0000