Six Sacramento residents have been charged with multiple Fish and Game Code violations after California Department of Fish and Wildlife officers conducted a weeks-long investigation of a sturgeon poaching operation.
The department announced Friday the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office will pursue a case against Mikhail Tverdokhlebov, 54; Aleksandr Postnov, 48; Sang Saephan, 29; Narong Srikham, 35; Mike Keopraseut, 46; and Roongroji Sritula, 48. The six men face charges, including conspiracy to unlawfully take sturgeon, take and possession of sturgeon for commercial purposes, unlawful possession of sturgeon, possession of untagged and oversize sturgeon and failure to properly return/report sturgeon fishing cards.
Wildlife officers recovered extensive evidence of illegal activities as they served search warrants at locations where suspected members of the group ran their poaching operations, according to a Department of Fish and Wildlife news release.
At one location, officers found an oversized, untagged sturgeon that was barely alive and lay flopping on the garage floor. Officials said the fish could not be saved. Officers also found more than 20 jars of caviar – processed sturgeon fish eggs – some labeled with prices; weights and sturgeon meat labeled with prices; and fish processing equipment, including scales and canning equipment.
Officers seized fishing rods and tackle, along with various California Department of Fish and Wildlife licenses and tags, as well as other tools and evidence of illegal poaching.
If convicted, the suspects could face several thousand dollars in fines and penalties, incarceration, forfeiture of assets and equipment, and revocation of fishing privileges, officials said.
Two types of sturgeon, white and green, are native to California waterways. White sturgeon, which was taken in this case, is highly sought for its meat and eggs. This creates a commercial black market that leads to rampant poaching, officials said.
“Illegal trafficking of wildlife is a multimillion-dollar black market industry often linked to criminal organizations,” David Bess, chief of the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s law enforcement division, said in a written statement. “Wildlife trafficking threatens the stability of species, the economy and public safety, not only in California, but also globally.”
Anyone with information about unlawful fishing, hunting or pollution is encouraged to call CDFW CalTIP, a confidential secret witness program, at 888-334-2258. The number is printed on the back of every hunting and fishing license. Tips also may relayed by texting “CALTIP” and a message to 847411, which allows the public to text message an anonymous tip to wildlife officers and allows the officers to respond, creating an anonymous two-way conversation.