Contact Don Ledford, Public Affairs ● (816) 426-4220 ● 400 East Ninth Street, Room 5510 ● Kansas City, MO 64106

JULY 9, 2008




            SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – John F. Wood, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a former Shell Knob, Mo., man was indicted by a federal grand jury today for harvesting the eggs from paddlefish caught in illegal nets at Table Rock Lake, in Barry and Stone Counties, Mo., which were processed into caviar and sold to a Tennessee company.

            Thomas Jerry Nix, Jr., 38, of Memphis, Tenn., formerly of Shell Knob, Mo., was charged in a seven-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield.

            Today’s indictment alleges that, from Dec. 31, 2007, to Feb. 17, 2008, Nix and an unindicted co-conspirator participated in a conspiracy to transport and sell paddlefish roe (eggs) that were taken in violation of state and federal laws.

            Nix allegedly set gill nets (a commercial fishing net set vertically in the water so that fish swimming into it are entangled by the gills in its mesh) on Table Rock Lake. Nix returned to check those gill nets every one to three days, removing all the fish that were caught, and relocated the gill nets on Table Rock Lake as the paddlefish moved upstream to spawn.

            When paddlefish were retrieved from the gill nets, the indictment says, Nix used a knife to slit open the underside of each paddlefish containing roe or suspected to contain roe, and extracted the roe by hand. After removing the roe, Nix sealed it in plastic bags that were placed in a cooler and transported to Nix’s residence in Shell Knob. In order to conceal his illegal activities, Nix allegedly weighted the carcasses of the paddlefish with rocks, then sank those carcasses in Table Rock Lake.

            Nix allegedly processed the paddlefish roe into caviar, which was weighed, packaged and transported to several locations in Tennessee, where the paddlefish caviar was sold to a company engaged in the business of buying, processing and selling caviar. The indictment says that Nix falsely represented that the caviar had been lawfully taken in Arkansas.

            Between Jan. 11 and Feb. 11, 2008, Nix allegedly sold approximately 387 pounds of paddlefish caviar to the Tennessee firm for a total of $35,820.

            On Feb. 17, 2008, Nix and his co-conspirator allegedly took approximately eight paddlefish at Table Rock Lake, from which they extracted roe, and were in possession of approximately 78.3 pounds of unprocessed paddlefish roe when they were apprehended by agents of the Missouri Department of Conservation. Nix was also in possession, at his residence in Shell Knob, of approximately 91.32 pounds of paddlefish roe that had been processed into caviar and packaged in containers labeled for sale to the Tennessee company.

            In addition to the conspiracy, today’s indictment charges Nix with one count of possessing and transporting paddlefish roe taken in violation of federal regulations and five counts of transporting and selling paddlefish caviar across state lines.

            The federal indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation, which would require Nix to forfeit to the government all vehicles or equipment used to commit the alleged offenses, including a 20-foot Bumblebee 200 Pro boat and trailer, with 225 HP Mariner motor, a GPS unit, and miscellaneous equipment such as three gill nets with anchors and a digital scale.

The American paddlefish

            The American paddlefish is native to the Mississippi River drainage system and is taken for both its meat and roe. Once common throughout the Midwest, over-fishing and habitat changes have caused major population declines. The paddlefish is a close relative of the sturgeons from which most commonly known caviars were obtained. Given its close relationship to the sturgeon, paddlefish caviar has qualities similar to sturgeon caviars. With diminishing worldwide sturgeon populations and increased international protection for declining stocks, American paddlefish has become an increasingly popular substitute for sturgeon caviar, and as such has become quite valuable. The paddlefish is protected by the various states in its range, including Missouri and Arkansas. Female paddlefish reach reproductive maturity at 9 to 11 years of age, and weigh 50 to 100 pounds or more. Mature female paddlefish normally hold between five and 10 pounds of roe.

            Wood cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.

            This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven M. Mohlhenrich. It was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation.


This news release, as well as additional information about the office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, is available on-line at