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Two men sentenced for illegal harvest of paddlefish caviar

Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Two Kentucky men have been sentenced for felony charges arising from the illegal harvest of paddlefish and paddlefish roe from closed waters in Mississippi.

James Lawrence “Lance” Freeman, 27, of Eddyville, Ky., and Marcus Harrell, 34, of Murray, Ky. Plead guilty to conspiring to violate the Lacey Act by traveling to Mississippi on multiple occasions in 2018 with the purpose to harvest paddlefish from Moon Lake in Coahoma County, which was closed to paddlefish harvest.

Freeman and Harrell would then take the harvested paddlefish roe back to Kentucky and sell it to commercial processors, claiming that the paddlefish had been caught in the Ohio River. Paddlefish roe – or paddlefish caviar – is a similar, more wallet-friendly cousin of the caviar that comes from wild sturgeon in the Caspian and Black Seas.

“The U.S. Fish & 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,” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement Assistant Director Edward Grace said. “The investigation involving the two defendants who were involved in the unlawful harvest and dealing of paddlefish roe is no exception.”

Freeman has been sentenced to six months of incarceration followed by three years of supervised release. Harrell has been sentenced to five years of probation. Both men, who are commercial fishermen, will also pay fines and are banned from fishing in the state of Mississippi for a period of five years.

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