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FEBRUARY 3, 2009




            SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – John F. Wood, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that a former Shell Knob, Mo., man has been sentenced in federal court for his role in a conspiracy to harvest the eggs from paddlefish caught in illegal nets at Table Rock Lake, which were processed into caviar and sold to a Tennessee company.

            Thomas Jerry Nix, Jr., 39, of Memphis, Tenn., formerly of Shell Knob, Mo., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith on Monday, Feb. 2, 2009, to one year and one day in federal prison without parole. The court also ordered Nix to pay $30,002 in restitution to the Missouri Department of Conservation. Nix will forfeit to the government 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, all of which were used to commit the offense.

            On Sept. 4, 2008, Nix pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to engage in illegal commercial fishing for American paddlefish on Table Rock Lake and to illegally take the roe (eggs) of paddlefish, process that roe into caviar, and transport and sell that caviar in interstate commerce from December 2007 to Feb. 17, 2008.

            Beginning in December 2007, Nix set three gill nets on Table Rock Lake and used a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver to mark the location of the nets. Every one to three days thereafter, Nix and his co-conspirator returned to check the gill nets for paddlefish. When paddlefish were retrieved from the gill nets, Nix slit open each paddlefish suspected to contain roe, and extracted the roe from the paddlefish by hand. They sealed the roe in plastic bags and transported the roe to the his residence in Shell Knob, where the he processed the roe into caviar.

            Between December 2007 and February 2008, Nix and his co-conspirator relocated the gill nets on Table Rock Lake as the paddlefish moved upstream to spawn. In order to conceal their illegal activities, after removing the roe from the paddlefish, they sank the carcasses of the paddlefish they killed by weighting them with rocks.

            After processing the roe into caviar, Nix packaged the roe in plastic containers, weighed and labeled the containers with labels supplied by a Tennessee company, refrigerated the caviar and stored it in his residence. Periodically, Nix and his co-conspirator transported the paddlefish caviar from his residence in Shell Knob to three separate locations in Tennessee, where they sold it to a company engaged in the business of buying, processing and selling caviar. Between Jan. 11 and Feb. 11, 2008, Nix sold approximately 387 pounds of paddlefish caviar to the Tennessee firm for a total of $35,820.

            On the night of Feb. 17, 2008 agents of the Missouri Department of Conservation and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service apprehended Nix as he returned from his illegal commercial fishing on Table Rock Lake. Nix, who was in possession of 78.3 pounds of unprocessed paddlefish roe, admitted to taking paddlefish illegally, and stated that he had caught approximately eight paddlefish that night, from which he had taken the roe. Nix gave the agents consent to search his residence in Shell Knob, where they found an additional 91.32 pounds of paddlefish roe that had been processed into caviar, packaged in containers labeled for sale to a Tennessee company in the business of buying and selling caviar in interstate commerce.

            The following day, Feb. 18, 2008, Nix led agents to three gill nets that he had set in Table Rock Lake. The agents retrieved the nets, and released 17 live paddlefish which had been caught in them.

            Nix and his co-conspirator violated numerous Missouri laws and regulations, including the prohibition on the use of gill nets for sport fishing, taking paddlefish out of season, engaging in commercial fishing without a commercial license and using gill nets where not permitted and leaving them unattended. Nix also violated federal regulations that prohibit commercial activities on Table Rock Lake without the permission of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which the defendant did not have. Finally, paddlefish roe were subject to United States Food and Drug Administration regulations concerning Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans. Improperly processed paddlefish roe were subject to contamination by botulinum brucella and listeria monocyteogenes. Because Nix did not have a HACCP plan or permit to process paddlefish roe, all of the paddlefish caviar which the defendant introduced into interstate commerce was “adulterated” under the Food and Drug Administration Act.

            This case was 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