Thursday July 7, 2022

The Mercury News

Since November 2020, investigators with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have installed GPS trackers on cars, conducted nighttime stakeout surveillance operations, spied on Facebook accounts and traced wire transactions connected to what they describe as a major investigation into the state’s caviar black market.

The 18-month effort paid off: Eight people have been arrested this year on suspicion of illegal fishing and other violations, and prosecutors in Contra Costa County are preparing to file criminal charges against several others, according to court records. Authorities have identified people believed to be illegally fishing sturgeon from the Carquinez Strait and Sacramento River, as well as middlemen who buy the roe, convert it into caviar, and sell it to customers under the counter.

The suspects called sturgeon roe “black gold,” and it sold for around $150 a pound — a massive discount compared to restaurant prices, which can reach around $100 per ounce.

Sturgeon are huge bottom-dwelling fish that can live up to 100 years. They inhabit the Carquinez Strait and spawn in the Sacramento River, where humans have fished them for centuries. Green sturgeon are federally protected and classified as a threatened species, meaning they can’t be fished. White sturgeon are classified as “a species of special concern” due to threats to their spawning habitats.

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