Justice Department charges 8 in Missouri paddlefish poaching

Thursday, March 14, 2013 | 7:17 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Eight people are accused of illegally trafficking paddlefish caviar from a prime paddlefish location in western Missouri after a yearslong investigation that spanned nine states, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday.

More than 100 people were also issued citations Wednesday and Thursday in the bust that culminated a multi-year investigation into the illegal commercialization of Missouri paddlefish and their eggs for caviar, the Justice Department said in a release. The investigation by the Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spanned Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, the Justice Department said.

Paddlefish are huge fish prized for their eggs, which can be processed into caviar. The Missouri Department of Conservation said a pregnant paddlefish can have about 20 pounds of eggs and those eggs can be sold for as much as $35 an ounce.

Paddlefish can be legally fished in Missouri, but the daily catch limit is two. Missouri law prohibits the transportation of paddlefish eggs that have been removed from a paddlefish carcass and also outlaws their sale, purchase, or the offer of sale or purchase of paddlefish eggs. Federal law also prohibits importing or exporting fish that were taken in violation of a state law.

Warsaw, Mo., has become known as the "Paddlefish Capital of the World," according to the Conservation Department. The agency stocks about 45,000 hatchery-produced paddlefish each year in three large lakes, including one near a section of the Osage River in Warsaw where a large dam blocks spawning paddlefish, forcing them to collect beneath the dam and making it easier for anglers to snag them.

"A single large female paddlefish with about 20 pounds of eggs is carrying about $4,000 worth of potential caviar for black market sales," the agency's protection chief, Larry Yamnitz, said.

The indictments announced Thursday accuse the eight men of violating the federal Lacey Act or conspiring to violate the act by buying paddlefish illegally in Warsaw and processing the eggs into caviar. In one case, Andrew Praskovsky, 40, of Erie, Colo., was also accused of trying to export the eggs in checked luggage on an international flight out of Washington, D.C.

Others facing federal charges of violating the Lacey Act by buying paddlefish and processing the eggs into caviar are: Arkadiy Lvovskiy, 51, of Aurora, Colo.; Dmitri Elitchev, 46, of Centennial, Colo.; Artour Magdessian, 46, of Lone Tree, Colo.; Felix Baravik, 48, of Aurora, Colo.; Petr Babenko, 42, of Vineland, N.J.; and Bogdan Nahapetyan, 33, of Lake Ozark. Fedor Pakhnyuk, 39, of Hinsdale, Ill., faces two counts of violating the Lacey Act and is accused of trying to set up a business to market processed paddlefish caviar in Chicago.

Online court records Thursday didn't list lawyers for any of the defendants. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.

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