A nearly yearlong investigation by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife netted eight men on suspicion of poaching white sturgeon. A ninth was arrested on suspicion of selling Dungeness crab and red abalone on the black market, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The operation also involved two Oakland men who captured the sturgeon from the Sacramento Valley waterways, removing the eggs, and selling those eggs to members of a Russian family in San Francisco, who turned them into caviar and sold it on the illegal wildlife market.
The case is still pending prosecution.
One of the Oakland men, Andrew Chao, was arrested before, also on suspicion of poaching sturgeon, and of being in possession of an oversize sturgeon.
According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, surveillance on the other suspects saw the illegal capture of nearly 40 sturgeon.
“The suspects were also observed catching and using juvenile salmon as bait for the sturgeon, another unlawful act,” the department said.
“I am proud of the dedicated wildlife officers who spent countless hours investigating this wildlife trafficking case to protect our native sturgeon population, which is already severely affected by historic drought conditions,” David Bess, deputy director and chief of the law enforcement division, said in a statement via the Times.
The suspects also apparently celebrate the whole black market catalog. Along with the fish and seafood, officers also reportedly found illegally possessed deer and illegal guns—including a “ghost gun” and an AR-15—not to mention illegal narcotics and illegal marijuana.
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