I hate poaching, I love fishing, and I love police investigations. If you’re looking for a read about all 3 of these things, I would suggest you read The Caviar Con by David Gauvey Herbert. Undercover agents are working at the docks, bait and tackle shops, and as tour guides, to catch caviar crazed Russians who are poaching a vulnerable species of fish from the lakes of Warsaw, Missouri. The American paddlefish is the 7 foot long, 160 pound fish that they’re after. The eggs from this fish taste very similar to Russian sevruga caviar. This Russian caviar is very expensive due to the restriction of commercial harvesting after the fall of the Soviet Union. Now the Russians come to Missouri to poach for caviar that they will label as Russian caviar and sell it for an inequitable price on the black market.
In the early 2000s, the poaching of the American paddlefish in Missouri was at its peak. The town of Warsaw would almost double in population during the fishing season. When the population of the town doubled, the population of the fish depleted rapidly. The fish that the Russian poachers were after were the large pregnant females. Because it was the females that were getting killed, there weren’t as many fish left that could reproduce. The paddlefish were getting hit hard by poachers and there wasn’t much that could stop it until federal agents went undercover to blow apart the illegal operation.
The feds were after a man named Baravik. He had been poaching eggs from the paddlefish for years now and has been making hundreds of thousands of dollars from it. The agents were his guides on fishing trips and were watching him personally catch lots of fish over the limit. They had loads of evidence against him. They were waiting for the right time to bust him for his actions until he led them to the Russian Mafia. That’s right, the Mafia was smuggling caviar back to Russia to turn a big profit by miss labeling the caviar as their own.
When the feds found out about the mafia exporting illegal caviar, they decided not to bust Baravik yet, and try to “catch the bigger fish”. On March 13, 2013, 125 state and federal agents descended across 4 time zones to make arrests. During interrogations, some poachers said they sold the eggs to make a big profit, while others explained that they keep the eggs to serve to their guests. The ones who were planning on selling the caviar were looking at high demand and high cost for the delicate eggs.
Conservation officers consider this operation to be a huge success. 112 poachers were tagged with state or federal violations. Paddlefish poaching is way down. This operation had a big part to do with it. This story has many things that interest me, which is why I enjoyed it.