Re: Nine Nabbed in Sturgeon Bust "Operation Sacked Again"

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Posted by on March 22, 2008 at 04:45:12:

In Reply to: Nine Nabbed in Sturgeon Bust "Operation Sacked Again" posted by DFG News Release on March 21, 2008 at 17:50:29:

A Fou Saechao, 26, sits in a state Fish and Game truck after he was taken into custody on poaching charges during a raid early Friday.

State wildlife officials arrested nine Sacramento men Friday on charges of poaching salmon and sturgeon in the Sacramento River and Delta, providing another possible clue about why these species are threatened.

One of the suspects was on probation for similar crimes committed last year.

Wardens from the California Department of Fish and Game said the suspects illegally netted recently spawned chinook salmon as the fish attempted to migrate downstream to the sea. These fish were allegedly used as bait to catch oversize sturgeon, which were then processed illegally for the black-market caviar trade.

State fishing rules allow anglers to keep sturgeon that measure only between 46 and 66 inches long.

In an investigation, officials observed suspects taking two sturgeon 79 and 86 inches long. At that size, the fish are considered among the Delta's oldest and most prolific breeders. A third sturgeon was discovered during the arrests Friday but was cut into too many pieces to measure accurately.

"What poachers are doing is damaging our broodstock," said Warden Steven Stiehr, who patrols the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. "So next year we may see even tougher fishing restrictions."

It was the department's sixth major investigation into sturgeon poaching since 2003. Wardens said the arrests illustrate a problem that is outpacing their enforcement ability. California has only 200 game wardens statewide and the governor's budget for the coming year proposes to eliminate 38 vacant warden positions.

"We are at our wits' end with groups like this who continue to just poach and poach and poach for personal profit," said Warden Patrick Foy. "It's sturgeon in Sacramento, lobster in San Diego. We have too few wardens to slow them down."

Last year's fall chinook salmon run was the second-lowest on record. To protect the species, a total ban on commercial and recreational salmon fishing in California and Oregon is likely later this year, jeopardizing thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic value.

In this case, Stiehr said, the impact is especially troubling because poachers may have handicapped future populations.

The surveillance operation produced enough evidence against the suspects to justify search warrants. In raids that began at 6 a.m. Friday, wardens collected fishing gear, firearms, illegal fireworks and marijuana plants at seven south Sacramento homes.

The nine suspects were booked into the Sacramento County jail. Four face felony charges, because of prior convictions for illegal commercialization of sturgeon, and were being held on $12,000 bail each.

One suspect, Su Fou Saechou, 20, served jail time last year and was on probation for poaching sturgeon, Foy said. His probation terms required him to stay away from the Sacramento River and not possess any fishing gear or sturgeon.

The other three felony arrests included his brothers, Kao Fou Saechao, 27, and A Fou Saechao, 26. The fourth is Pahin Saephan, 25.

The other five were arrested on misdemeanors and are being held on $7,500 bail each: Pao Sio Chiew, 30; Ricky Saechao, 21; Torn Seng Saechao, 22; Cheng Chiew Saechao, 27; and Louchio Saeturn, 26.

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