Operation Colusa Clan Nets Seven Suspected Sturgeon Poachers

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Operation Colusa Clan Nets Seven Suspected Sturgeon PoachersWardens arrested seven Sacramento area men suspected of catching sturgeon using juvenile salmon as bait, then selling the illegally harvested fish for personal profit. Dubbed Operation Colusa Clan, it is the eighth major sturgeon poaching operation since 2003. Most of the fish were caught in Colusa County.

“We are using every resource we have available to keep up with sturgeon and salmon poaching,” said Nancy Foley, Chief of DFG’s Law Enforcement Division. “This is a huge case we will continue to make every effort to stop poaching.”

Friday morning, wardens served search and arrest warrants on:

Ivan Banatskyi, Citrus Heights; Sergey Sokalskiy, Citrus Heights; Andrey Bukaty, Sacramento; Petr Ivanovich Kolosov, Rancho Cordova; Yevgeniy Leontyuk, Rancho Cordova; Alexandr Paripa, Sacramento; and Serhiy V. Omelchuck, Sacramento.

The Sacramento River Fall Run Chinook Salmon population is in such a dire situation that all fishing for them was closed in 2008. Currently, a second year of closures is recommended for 2009 inflicting an estimated annual loss of $200 million to the economy. In recent years, wardens have noticed an increasing number of sturgeon poachers who use juvenile salmon as sturgeon bait and start each sturgeon fishing trip by catching as many of these juvenile salmon as possible.

Sturgeon eggs are especially valuable on the black market for caviar. Poachers target large breeding females loaded with eggs for profit. It creates a situation where poachers are removing the individuals that represent the future of both species, when the population of both species are depressed.

Pending charges range from felony conspiracy to commercially selling recreationally caught fish, illegal use of salmon as a bait fish, unlawful possession of illegally caught fish, overlimit of sturgeon and salmon, and several other poaching related offenses, to several cases of littering in state waters.

Because of the intense pressure from poachers on the sturgeon population, a law was passed in 2007 giving courts authority to issue a fine between $5,000 and $10,000, a year in county jail or both for catching and selling wild sturgeon. Other facets of this law allow the seizure and forfeiture of boats and vehicles used in the commission of the offense.

Successful investigations are often the direct result of lawful anglers giving local wardens or the CalTIP program information about poaching incidents. Contact the 1-888-DFG-CalTIP number to report poachers and polluters. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.