Indiana man sentenced with Lacey Act violations for paddlefish trafficking 

5 2 Paddlefish
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

As part of Operation Charlie, a joint federal and state task force that focuses on stopping illegal commercial fishing, Joseph R. Schigur, of English, Ind., was sentenced in federal court April 14, 2022, for illegally harvesting paddlefish on the Ohio River in violation of the Lacey Act.

U.S. District Judge Douglas R. Cole sentenced Schigur to serve to 60 months of probation and 6 months home confinement and to perform 40 hours per year of community service. Additionally, Schigur was fined $5,500 and will be paying $64,465 in restitution to the Ohio DNR. Schigur cannot be involved in any commercial fishing activity during probation and must surrender any commercial fishing licenses he currently possesses. He had pleaded guilty  May 25, 2021, to three counts of Lacey Act trafficking.

According to court documents, Schigur admitted that on December 4, 2015, and February 5 and 10, 2016, he and his employee entered the territorial waters of Ohio on the Ohio River and illegally harvested 107 paddlefish, which he transported through Kentucky to his shop in Indiana. Fish eggs, known as roe, were extracted from the female paddlefish then rinsed and processed into caviar and packaged into plastic tubs for transport. The remaining paddlefish carcasses were then carved into what are known as bullets and boxed for transport, with 25 units in each. The caviar and bullets were stored in the freezer located on site and sold to customers. Most of the inventory was sold and transported to two vendors in Brooklyn, N.Y. Schigur also admitted to filing false monthly harvesting reports in December 2015 and February 2016, claiming he caught the fish in Kentucky waters.

Schigur harvested the paddlefish and roe in violation of Ohio laws, which ban the possession and use of gill nets in its territorial waters on the Ohio River. Paddlefish are also listed as a threatened species under Ohio law. While these actions were a violation of state law, they also violated federal law. The Lacey Act is the nation’s oldest federal wildlife trafficking statute and prohibits, among other things, transporting wildlife in interstate commerce if the wildlife was illegal under state laws.

“America’s natural resources are vulnerable to the greed of illegal wildlife traffickers who aim to profit off America’s diverse fishery and wildlife resources. Thanks to collaborative investigations with our state counterparts, we’ve been working to stop them,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent in Charge for the Midwest Region John Brooks.

The American paddlefish is one of the largest fish found in its native Ohio River and can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh 100 pounds. They inhabit slow-moving, large, deep, freshwater rivers and reservoirs where they eat plankton. These long-lived fish are slow to mature, taking seven to 10 years before they can reproduce. Large mature females can produce more than 500,000 eggs but may spawn only every two or three years.

Ancestors of the American paddlefish lived in modern day North America about 125 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period, when some dinosaurs still roamed the Earth. Unfortunately, paddlefish populations have declined dramatically over the years due to overharvesting and habitat loss. Paddlefish have been lost from four states and Canada. Half of the 22 states within the remaining species range list the paddlefish as endangered, threatened or a species of special concern. Indiana and Kentucky are two of only seven states that still allow the commercial harvest of paddlefish.

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