An Indiana man pleaded guilty today to three felony counts of illegally harvesting American paddlefish and its roe.
According to court documents, on three separate days in December 2015 and February 2016, Joseph R. Schigur, a licensed commercial fisherman, and his deckhand, harvested 96 American paddlefish from the Ohio waters of the Ohio River that he knew were closed to commercial fishing. After capturing the paddlefish using gill nets, Schigur transported each catch to his shop in English, Indiana, where the roe was extracted from the females and processed to make caviar and the carcasses were carved up into smaller portions, commonly referred to as “bullets.” The caviar and bullets were then stored in freezers on site for future sale to out-of-state customers. Schigur’s three fishing trips resulted in approximately 1,400 pounds of fish meat and 72 pounds of caviar, most of which was sold to commercial vendors in New York City. To conceal his illegal harvests, Schigur falsified monthly reports of commercial fish harvest and daily roe harvest reports by claiming he caught the paddlefish in Kentucky waters.
Schigur pleaded guilty to three felony counts of Lacey Act violation before the Honorable Judge Douglas R. Cole in the Southern District of Ohio. A sentencing date will be set upon completion of a presentence report. Schigur faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 criminal fine, and a possible order requiring restitution payable to the State of Ohio.
Special agents of the Fish and Wildlife Services and law enforcement officers from both the Ohio and Indiana Department of Natural Resources investigated the case.
Trial Attorney R.J. Powers of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section (ECS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Clemmens of the Southern District of Ohio prosecuted the matter with the assistance of paralegal Samantha Goins of ECS.