A caviar poaching group with a body count of 250+ shovelnose sturgeon have been charged for multiple offenses.
Officers were initially tipped off in the Spring of 2019 that a group of people may be illegally taking shovelnose sturgeon along the Mississippi River. Disguised in plain clothes as anglers, investigators gathered evidence by staking out along the shoreline of the Mississippi River. They observed the poaching clan kill dozens of shovelnose sturgeon—also called sand sturgeon or hackleback sturgeon—between May 2020 and May 2021.
The investigation spanned hundreds of hours across more than two years and was a joint effort between Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Over this time, the poachers were observed slicing open the bellies, harvesting eggs from the females, and throwing most of the carcasses (both male and female) back into the water. They kept some of the fish (more than the legal limit), stashing them in large garbage bags.
Authorities believe the shovelnose sturgeon were targeted for their roe, which produces caviar valued at approximately $45 to $100 per ounce.
Shovelnose sturgeon are an important native fish in the Mississippi River, classified as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—though, not because of a dwindling population, but rather due to its almost indistinguishable appearance to another endangered species, the pallid sturgeon.
Shovelnose sturgeon are protected with conservative harvest limits to make sure their populations remain stable. Despite relatively stable numbers, overharvest of shovelnose sturgeon could negatively affect the population.
"We put regulations in place in order to protect fish populations and ensure their sustainability into the future," Minnesota DNR fisheries section manager Brad Parsons said. "Situations like this, especially when they involve slow-growing species like shovelnose sturgeon that may spawn just three or four times in their lifetime, really do have the potential to affect everyone's ability to use and enjoy our natural resources."
According to the Minnesota DNR, six people were charged by the Houston County Attorney's Office with 57 violations. Those charged were Vladimiras Parsikovas, Soma Miller, Sergej Jestrebov, and Viktor Parsikovas, all of Milwaukee Minnesota, Artyom Miller of Mequon, Wisconsin, and Pioter Miller of McKinney, Texas.
All pleaded guilty last year to the charges, with the final case being resolved late last fall. Three of the individuals pled guilty to gross misdemeanors for taking gross over limits and lost their hunting and fishing privileges for ten years. Two of the individuals also were charged and found guilty in Wisconsin of improperly transporting game from another state; those cases were resolved this spring.
"This case is a great example of teamwork across states, agencies and the county prosecutor's office, and sends a clear message that wildlife crimes will not be tolerated," Tyler Ramaker, the Minnesota DNR's lead investigator on this case, said.