Two men have been charged with three counts each relating to paddlefish possession violations following a traffic stop near Blackwell in April.
Anatoly Natekin, 36, and Fedor Natekin, 27, both of Kent, Wash., have been charged with three counts each, including illegally transporting paddlefish eggs with the intent to leave the state, unlawful possession of more than three pounds of processed paddlefish eggs, and conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor.
A rental vehicle occupied by the two men was pulled over by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol on I-35 April 23. Inside the vehicle were 305 pounds of caviar packaged in unmarked jars and several pounds of fish fillets, all believed to be harvested from paddlefish. The charges for possessing more than three pounds of paddlefish eggs and transporting them with intent to leave the state each carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and $10,000 in fines. In addition to fines and possible jail time, courts are required to order violators to pay restitution payments in all fish and wildlife cases.
Native to Oklahoma, paddlefish swim upstream in rivers and tributaries each spring to spawn, particularly in those rivers that empty into lakes in northeast Oklahoma where most paddlefish angling activity takes place. Anglers who flock to northeast Oklahoma each spring to fish for the spawning paddlefish are legally allowed to possess no more than three pounds of paddlefish eggs - which can be used as the primary ingredient for caviar products - and crossing state lines in possession of paddlefish eggs also is illegal.
Game wardens with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation were called to the scene, and the two men were taken to the Kay County Jail in Newkirk. They were released April 26 after posting bond of $5,000 each. Their next court appearance date is set in September, and the evidence was cataloged and is being stored until the trial.
"If convicted, these wildlife violators could face significant consequences for their actions," said Bill Hale, assistant chief of law enforcement for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "This is an extreme case of violating our state's fish and wildlife laws, but this is a good time to remind our state's many law abiding anglers to read all regulations before going fishing this season. The Wildlife Department's 'Oklahoma Fishing Guide' tells you all you need to know, and it is available free anywhere that fishing licenses are sold and online at wildlifedepartment.com."
Oklahoma draws paddlefish anglers from across the nation. The sport has grown into a booming recreational pastime in northeast Oklahoma, and the Wildlife Department has found a way to manage the fish and learn about the anglers who catch them to sustain long-term angling opportunities through its Paddlefish Research and Processing Center. The center is a site where anglers can bring their paddlefish to be cleaned and processed for free in exchange for biological data from the fish. Fisheries personnel with the Wildlife Department use the data to help manage the state's unique paddlefish population, and eggs from female fish brought to the center are collected and sold worldwide as caviar, the proceeds of which are used by the Wildlife Department to fund the paddlefish program.
The Wildlife Department is the state agency charged with conserving Oklahoma's fish and wildlife and is responsible for enforcing laws related to hunting and fishing. More information about the Wildlife Department, including regulations for hunting and fishing in the state, is available at www.wildlifedepartment.com