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Indiana Man Caught Trafficking Paddlefish Caviar

Juvenile American paddlefish feeding in a tank at the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery in Riverdale, North Dakota in 2013 (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service & U.S. Department of the Interior).

A southern Indiana man will serve up to two years in prison for illegally trafficking paddlefish caviar, among other crimes. The American paddlefish is one of only two species of paddlefish in the world and the demand for its caviar has led to overfishing. 

David M. Cox of English, Indiana, tried to sell 1,500 pounds of paddlefish meat and caviar to Russian buyers based in Brooklyn. Just a 4 ounce tin of paddlefish caviar can cost nearly a $100.

“When you’re fishing within the bounds of your permit — commercial fishing — it’s a very profitable market,” says Tina Shaw, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the undercover investigation required the help of four states along the Ohio River — Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Kentucky. Shaw says it also took three years to complete.

Hoosiers have to have a special license to harvest a paddlefish and it has to be at least 32 inches long. Shaw says most states have laws like this to make sure the species doesn’t die out.

“It can take a paddlefish seven years to get mature to reproduce," she says. "So in essence, you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face when you take out those smaller fish.”

Shaw says fishermen can help solve wildlife crime by reporting anything suspicious to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources or their local conservation district.

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