WASHINGTON – A Kentucky couple and their caviar companies were charged today with trafficking in and falsely labeling illegally harvested paddlefish (Polydon spathula), the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio announced today.
The American paddlefish (Polydon spathula), also called the Mississippi paddlefish or the spoonbill (hereinafter paddlefish), is a freshwater fish that is primarily found in the Mississippi River drainage system. Paddlefish eggs are marketed as caviar. Paddlefish were once common in waters throughout the Midwest. However, the global decline in other caviar sources, such as sturgeon, has led to an increased demand for paddlefish caviar. This increased demand has led to over-fishing of paddlefish, and consequent decline of the paddlefish population. Paddlefish, whose eggs are marketed as caviar, are protected by both federal and Ohio law. It is illegal to harvest paddlefish in Ohio waters, but they can be harvested legally in Kentucky waters.
The indictment charges Steve T. Kinder, 51, and Kinder Caviar Inc. with illegally harvesting paddlefish from Ohio waters and falsely reporting to the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources that he caught the fish in Kentucky. The indictment charges Cornelia Joyce Kinder, 53, as well as Kinder Caviar Inc. and Black Star Caviar Company with providing false information about the paddlefish eggs to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in order to obtain permits to export the paddlefish eggs to foreign customers, including the amount of paddlefish eggs to be exported, the names of the fishermen that harvested the paddlefish and the location where the paddlefish were harvested. The alleged violations occurred between March 2006 and December 2010.
Steve Kinder and his wife Cornelia Joyce Kinder, both of Owenton, Ky., owned and operated Kinder Caviar and Black Star Caviar. Those companies were in the business of exporting paddlefish eggs as caviar to customers in foreign countries.
If convicted, the Kinders face a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both on each count. The companies could be fined up to $500,000 per count.
An indictment is merely an accusation and a defendants is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The case is being investigated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife; and the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources. It is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio and the Environmental Crimes Section of the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.