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Southern Indiana man pleads guilty to illegally harvesting paddlefish

American paddlefish swimming with pallid sturgeon. (Photo Provided/Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

CINCINNATI (WISH) – The Justice Department says an Indiana man pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to three felony counts of illegally harvesting American paddlefish and its eggs.

Court documents says commercial fisherman Joseph R. Schigur, and his deckhand on three separate days in December 2015 and February 2016 harvested 96 American paddlefish and their eggs, called roe, from Ohio waters of the Ohio River that he knew were closed to commercial fishing.

A Justice Department release said, “After capturing the paddlefish using gill nets, Schigur transported each catch to his shop in English, Indiana, where the roe was extracted from the females and processed to make caviar and the carcasses were carved up into smaller portions, commonly referred to as ‘bullets.’ The caviar and bullets were then stored in freezers on site for future sale to out-of-state customers.”

The town of English is about 90 miles south of Indianapolis.

The three fishing trips brought in 1,400 pounds of fish meat and 72 pounds of caviar, most sold to commercial vendors in New York City.

To conceal his illegal harvests, Schigur falsified monthly reports of commercial fish harvests and daily roe harvest reports by claiming he caught the paddlefish in Kentucky waters.

A sentencing date has not been set. Schigur faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 criminal fine, and a possible order requiring restitution payable to the state of Ohio.

Special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and law enforcement officers from the Ohio and Indiana departments of natural resources investigated the case.