Husband-Wife Team Admit Illegally Selling Paddlefish Caviar

CINCINNATI, Ohio, January 17, 2012 (ENS) – Two Kentuckians and their caviar companies pleaded guilty today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to trafficking in and falsely labeling illegally harvested paddlefish, Polydon spathula.

Steve Kinder, along with his wife, Cornelia Joyce Kinder, both of Owenton, Kentucky, owned and operated Kinder Caviar Inc. and Black Star Caviar Company. Those companies were in the business of exporting paddlefish eggs as caviar to customers in foreign countries.

Paddlefish, whose eggs are marketed as caviar, are protected by both federal and Ohio law. Ohio law prohibits commercial fishing for paddlefish. Ohio law also prohibits the possession or use of gill nets.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, which is codified in United States law through the Endangered Species Act, regulates international trade in species listed on one of three Appendices.

Fishman holds paddlefish from the Wabash River, Indiana (Photo by Andrew Muir)

Paddlefish are listed on Appendix II of CITES. Appendix II species, or their parts, which were harvested in the United States, may be exported only if they are accompanied by a valid export permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Lacey Act makes it a crime to transport or sell fish, or their parts, knowing that the fish were harvested in violation of any state’s law. The Lacey Act also makes it a crime to make or submit a false record, account or label for, or false identification of, fish or fish parts which were, or were intended to be, exported, transported or sold.

According to the plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, Cornelia Joyce Kinder admitted to making false statements on behalf of Kinder Caviar in a CITES Export Registration Form for paddlefish eggs on or about March 15, 2007.

Kinder misrepresented the amount of legally-harvested paddlefish eggs that she could provide documentation for, as well as misidentified the fishermen who harvested the paddlefish and the location of harvest.

As part of the plea agreement, she also admitted to making false statements on behalf of Black Star Caviar Company in a CITES Export Registration Form for paddlefish eggs on or about December 18, 2010. She used the name of a subordinate employee and forged that employee’s signature on the form in order to give the impression that she was not the applicant.

The plea agreement shows that both Kinders admitted to aiding and abetting one another in harvesting paddlefish in Ohio waters, using gill nets attached to the Ohio shoreline, on or about May 5, 2007, and transporting the paddlefish to Kentucky with the intent to sell them when, “in the exercise of due care,” said the Justice Department, they should have known that the fish were harvested in violation of Ohio law.

As part of a plea agreement, both Kinder Caviar and Black Star Caviar Company have each agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and serve a three-year term of probation, during which time those companies will be prohibited from applying for or receiving a CITES Export Permit.

In addition, both Steve Kinder and Cornelia Joyce Kinder have agreed to serve a three-year term of probation, during which time they will each perform 100 hours of community service, be prohibited from fishing anywhere in the Ohio River where that river forms the border between Ohio and Kentucky, and be prohibited from applying for or receiving a CITES Export Permit, either on behalf of themselves or anyone else.

The boat and truck that were used in furtherance of the Lacey Act crimes have been forfeited. In accordance with Kentucky law, both defendents face possible suspension of their Kentucky commercial fishing licenses.

Paddlefish can be distinguished from all other North American freshwater fishes by the presence of a large, paddle-shaped protrusion – up to one-third total body length – on the snout. The paddlefish is found throughout the Mississippi and Missouri river systems.

In recent years, paddlefish numbers have been reduced by over-exploitation and the habitat destruction by stream channelization, levee construction, impoundment, pollution and drainage of streams and bottomland lakes.

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