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Two area men charged with Iowa fishing violations
WAPELLO, Iowa -- Two Southeast Missouri men face 74 counts and more than $43,000 in fines and civil damages for the alleged unlawful harvest of shovelnose sturgeon on the Mississippi River in Louisa County, Iowa.
Robert Housman, 43, of Sikeston, Mo., was charged with 35 counts of unlawful take and possession of shovelnose sturgeon and two counts of setting entanglement gear (commercial fishing nets) in a closed zone for a total of $3,671.25 in fines. The state is also seeking $18,000 in liquidated damages from Housman.
Michael Dye, 39, of Charleston, Mo., was charged with 34 counts of unlawful take and possession of shovelnose sturgeon, two counts of setting entanglement gear in a closed zone and one count of no commercial fishing license for a total of $3,772.50 in fines. The state is also seeking $18,000 in liquidated damages from Dye.
Officers also seized a commercial fishing boat/outboard motor and commercial fishing nets. The estimated value of the gear is $40,000.
On Oct. 14, officers reportedly observed Housman and Dye on pool 18 of the Mississippi River, near lock and dam 17, setting nets designed to catch shovelnose sturgeon. The season allowing commercial harvest of shovelnose sturgeon on the Mississippi River begins Oct. 15. Officers monitored the two men over the next 20 hours and observed as the two harvested sturgeon out of the illegally placed nets and allegedly transported fish under the Iowa length limit of 27 inches into Illinois waters, where the legal length limit is 24 inches.
An initial court appearance has been scheduled for Nov. 21.
Shovelnose sturgeon are commercially harvested largely for the value of their eggs, which can be worth as much as $100 per pound.
Interest -- and sometimes illegal activity -- in harvesting sturgeon has increased since the mid-1990s when the Russian caviar market began having a difficult time meeting demand.
"When prices get high, it is possible for people to make $4,000 to $5,000 a day harvesting roe [the fish eggs used for caviar]," said Iowa Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Joe Fourdyce. "The regulations we have in place are essential in maintaining a sustainable fishery. Unregulated, over-harvest is what damaged the Russian caviar market."
Fourdyce said that sturgeon, unlike other fish, do not begin producing eggs until they are about four years old, which is why there is a 27-inch length limit.
"Substantial harvest of fish under this size can have a dramatic and long-lasting negative impact on the fishery, which is why these regulations are so important in protecting the resource," Fourdyce said in a news release.