Nearly one year after pleading guilty to illegally harvesting paddlefish in the Ohio River, the son-in-law of Indiana's former "Caviar King" was sentenced last week in federal court.
Joseph Schigur of English, Ind. will have to serve five years of probation, including six months of home confinement, and perform 40 hours of community service. U.S. District Judge Douglas R. Cole of the Southern District of Ohio also fined Schigur $5,500 and ordered him to pay nearly $65,000 in restitution.
Schigur pleaded guilty in May 2021 to violating the federal Lacey Act after a years-long undercover wildlife poaching investigation. That same investigation, known as Operation Charlie, sent Schigur's father-in-law, David Cox, to federal prison in 2018.
Schigur's guilty plea is in connection to three outings on the Ohio River in 2015 and 2016. During those fishing trips, he and a conservation officer working undercover hauled in more than 100 paddlefish from waters that are closed to commercial fishing.
The American paddlefish, also called a "primitive fish," is an odd-looking prehistoric creature found in the Ohio River. It is one of the largest fish found in its native Ohio River and can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh 100 pounds.
These fish can take as many as 10 years before they can reproduce, and large mature females can produce more than 500,000 eggs. The paddlefish provides a high-quality substitute to the caviar from European beluga sturgeon, which has become more scarce due to overfishing.
Violation of wildlife trafficking law
Federal prosecutors said that Schigur obtained roughly 1,400 pounds of fish meat and 72 pounds of caviar from the three fishing trips in waters that are controlled by the state of Ohio.
Schigur harvested the paddlefish and roe in violation of Ohio law, which does not allow the commercial harvest of paddlefish. Paddlefish are listed as a threatened species under Ohio law, but commercial fishermen are allowed to net them in portions of the river controlled by Indiana and Kentucky.
These actions also violated the federal Lacey Act, the nation's oldest wildlife trafficking statute. It prohibits transporting wildlife in interstate commerce if the wildlife was illegal under state laws.
After netting the fish in the prohibited area, prosecutors said Schigur took them back to his business, Ohio Valley Caviar LLC., in English. There, he removed the roe from the females and processed it into caviar. The fish meat was then cut into small pieces called "bullets" and frozen. Most of the caviar and meat was sold to buyers in New York City, prosecutors said.
“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," John Brooks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent in Charge for the Midwest Region, said in a statement. "Thanks to collaborative investigations with our state counterparts, we’ve been working to stop them.”
Schigur's sentence is significantly less than the potential penalty he faced, which was up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The $64,465 in restitution Schigur must pay will go to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Who was the "Caviar King"?
Schigur is married to the daughter of David Cox. One of Indiana's most successful and colorful caviar fishermen, Cox was sentenced to two years in federal prison in 2018. Cox, who had a prior Lacey Act conviction, pleaded guilty to keeping a paddlefish smaller than allowed by Indiana law and possessing firearms after being convicted of a prior felony.
Charges in both cases came out of the same investigation that began in 2014 and at times involved an Indiana conservation officer who worked undercover as a deckhand for both Cox and Schigur.
Cox was released from prison in 2020, but is banned from commercial fishing and caviar processing for three years.
Schigur also cannot be involved in any commercial fishing activity during his probation and must surrender any commercial fishing licenses he currently possesses.
IndyStar editor Tim Evans contributed to this report.
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This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: "Caviar King" of Indiana, relative, sentenced for paddlefish poaching