Two men arrested for illegally harvesting paddlefish and paddlefish roe in Mississippi lake. The eggs are similar to some of the world’s finest caviar.
Published 12:58 pm Monday, September 19, 2022
Two Kentucky men were sentenced recently by the U.S. District Court for felony charges arising out of the illegal harvest of paddlefish and paddlefish roe from closed waters in Mississippi.
According to court documents, James Lawrence “Lance” Freeman, 27, of Eddyville, Kentucky, and Marcus Harrell, 34, of Murray, Kentucky, plead guilty to conspiring to violate the Lacey Act by traveling from Kentucky to Mississippi on multiple occasions between Nov. 6, 2018, and Jan. 5, 2018, for the purpose of harvesting paddlefish from Moon Lake in Coahoma County, which was closed to paddlefish harvest. Freeman or Harrell would take the harvested paddlefish roe back to Kentucky to sell to commercial processors, falsely claiming that the paddlefish had been caught in the Ohio River or other places in or near Kentucky where the harvest of paddlefish was legal.
American Paddlefish caviar (or paddlefish roe) comes from the eggs of the Paddlefish freshwater sturgeon (Polyodon spathula) that lives in the lakes and rivers of Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. The roe of American paddlefish can be processed into caviar similar in taste, color, size and texture to sevruga sturgeon caviar from the Caspian Sea.
Freeman was sentenced on Sept. 15 in Oxford before U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills. Freeman was sentenced to 6 months incarceration, followed by 3 years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a fine in the amount of $20,000.00 to the Lacey Act Reward Account. Freeman, a commercial fisherman, was further banned from all fishing, both commercial and recreational, for a period of 5 years. Freeman is scheduled to report to prison on November 28.
Harrell was sentenced on July 26 in Oxford before U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock. Harrell was sentenced to 5 years probation and ordered to pay a fine in the amount of $7,500.00 to the Lacey Act Reward Account. Harrell, who is also a commercial fisherman, was banned from all fishing in the State of Mississippi for a period of 5 years and further banned from harvesting fish roe of any species in any state for a period of 5 years.
Following the sentence, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement Assistant Director Edward Grace stated, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement is committed to conducting criminal investigations with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks in an effort to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats. The Office of Law Enforcement takes violations of the Lacey Act seriously. The investigation involving the 2 defendants who were involved in the unlawful harvest and dealing of paddlefish roe is no exception. We will continue to work closely with our state partners to conduct these important joint investigations.”
“I am extremely proud of these Officers for their hard work and dedication they put forth in bringing these violators to justice,” remarked Col. Jerry Carter of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Thanks for the joint effort by all agencies State and Federal that were involved, it truly sends a message that unlawful acts such as this will not be tolerated in our state and that we will use all the manpower and equipment available to protect our natural resources.”
U.S. Attorney Clay Joyner of the Northern District of Mississippi and Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the Office of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the announcement.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the case, along with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.