is one concluded court case from the "online" officer's notebook.
If you would like to read all the wildlife and fisheries investigations
and the final outcome of the court cases be sure to pickup your Alberta
Game Warden magazine at your favorite bookstore. Or better yet, purchase
a yearly subscription so you won't miss an issue.
fine on record for caviar smuggling case: Maryland U.S.A.
tactics: Athabasca District
fired trigger investigation: Edmonton District
track down illegal antler collectors: Jasper National Park
for questions: High Prairie District
fisher nets trouble: Barrhead District
hunting bags charges: Sundre District
face big fines for illegal moose: Sundre District
friend in need is trouble indeed: Grande Cache District
Largest fine on record for caviar smuggling case:
On Feb. 20, 2001, U.S. Caviar & Caviar, Ltd., a major American supplier
of that high-priced culinary delicacy, was fined $10.4 million, the most
ever in a wildlife trafficking case - and Hossein Lolavar, the company's
former owner and president, was sentenced to serve 41 months in prison
by Judge Alexander Williams in federal court in Greenbelt, Maryland in
connection with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation of illegal
caviar trade. In July 2000, U.S. Caviar pleaded guilty to 22 federal charges
and Lolavar to 12, including multiple felony counts of conspiracy, smuggling,
making false statements, submitting false wildlife records, and mail fraud,
as well as violations of the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act - a
federal wildlife protection law that prohibits the false labeling of fish
and wildlife imported, exported, or transported in interstate and foreign
Also sentenced were U.S. Caviar sales manager Faye Briggs, who also
ran a caviar label-making business at the company's Rockville, Maryland,
headquarters, and Ken Noroozi, the president of a caviar export firm operating
out of the United Arab Emirates.
Briggs will serve 21 months in prison and Noroozi 15 for their participation
in a five-year smuggling operation that involved caviar with a retail
value of more than $7.5 million, one of the largest value wildlife trafficking
schemes ever uncovered by the Service.
"Three years ago, nations around the world took steps to protect sturgeon
and paddlefish because over harvest for the caviar trade was depleting
fish populations," said Acting Service Director Marshall Jones. "This
case shows that some segments of the caviar industry not only ignored
those protections, but deliberately defrauded the public in the process.
" U.S. Caviar, which claimed to be one of the Nation's largest importers
of sturgeon roe from the Caspian Sea and counted airlines and gourmet
grocery chains among its customers, admitted importing tons of black market
caviar from the United Arab Emirates using forged Russian caviar labels.
The labels, which caught the eye of a Service wildlife inspector clearing
shipments at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, made it look
as if the roe had been produced and exported by a large, legitimate Russian
caviar supplier. However, it had actually been smuggled out of Russia
or other countries bordering the Caspian Sea. The forged labels were produced
at U.S. Caviar's Rockville headquarters, where at least 5,000 were manufactured.
They were sent to the United Arab Emirates for use on shipments destined
for the United States.
The company and its co-defendants forged wildlife documents, including
Russian health certificates, to further authenticate their shipments.
The shipments were also accompanied by false permits, customs documents,
invoices, and packing lists. In 1998 alone, U.S. Caviar imported some
18,000 pounds (9 tons) of caviar from the United Arab Emirates with false
labels and documents.
U.S. Caviar smuggled real beluga caviar - a Caspian Sea variety that
ranks as the world's most expensive - into the United States by labeling
the tins as less valuable caviar, filing false declarations, and using
false invoices understating the value of the caviar to avoid paying the
higher customs duty required. Lolavar, Briggs, and their company also
operated a domestic mail fraud scheme that sold eggs from domestic paddlefish
and shovelnose sturgeon (commonly called hackleback) to U.S. customers
as authentic Russian sevruga caviar, also a highly prized Caspian Sea
DNA tests conducted by the Service's National Fish and Wildlife Forensics
Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, showed that the purported "Russian" caviar
sold by the Maryland company did not contain eggs from Caspian Sea sturgeon
species as claimed but instead originated from paddlefish and hackleback,
fish native only to North America.
Scientific Name: Polyodon spathula
Location: MS and MO River drainages
Weight: 160 pounds
Length: 70 inches
Artist: Duane Ravier, USFWS
Scientific Name: Acipenser oxyhynchus
Location: Rivers and coastal waters along east coast
Weight: 1100 pounds
Length: 170 inches
Diet: Invertebrates, mollusks and small fish
Artist: Duane Ravier, USFWS
Declines in sturgeon and paddlefish populations worldwide prompted the
member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species (CITES) to regulate global commerce in these fish and products
made from them, including caviar. Under trade controls that went into
effect in April 1998, companies dealing in caviar must obtain export permits
from the country of origin or re-export certifying that the fish were
taken legally and that trade represents no threat to the survival of wild
populations. To be valid, permits must also correctly identify the fish
species from which the roe was harvested as well as the country where
the fish were caught.
"When the permit or label says Russian caviar, that's what should be
inside," said Jones. "Fraudulent trade cheats the public, circumvents
global trade controls that protect sturgeon, and puts new pressures on
U.S. fish species that have already vanished from many of our rivers."
The United States is one of the world's largest consumers of caviar.
In 1999, the country imported more than 143 tons of the delicacy. The
Service's Division of Law Enforcement monitors this trade to uphold global
safeguards for sturgeon and paddlefish under the CITES treaty and ensure
compliance with federal wildlife protection laws and import/export regulations.
Although beluga, osetra, and sevruga caviars are the most sought-after
varieties, the three Caspian Sea sturgeon species that yield these roes
- the beluga, Russian (or osetra) and stellate (or sevruga) sturgeons
- are increasingly rare in the wild. Over the years, commercial fishing,
environmental degradation, and the damming of rivers have driven down
populations of these fish. Most beluga sturgeon in the Caspian today come
from restocking programs and are not old enough to be harvested for roe.
Hatchery production also accounts for portions of the stellate and Russian
Fisheries management programs and harvest quotas regulate the legal
take of these fish. Conservationists and fishery managers, however, have
long suspected that significant quantities of the caviar sold around the
world under the beluga, osetra, and sevruga names come either from illegally
fished sturgeon or from different species.
Paddlefish and shovelnose sturgeon are commercially harvested in parts
of this country. States, however, carefully manage populations to ensure
that both commercial use and sportfishing are compatible with long-term
conservation. Large-scale commercial catches early in the century and
loss of habitat have reduced both the numbers and ranges of these U.S.
The federal probe of U.S. Caviar & Caviar was conducted by special agents
from the Service's Baltimore, Maryland, law enforcement office with assistance
from the U.S. Customs Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Food
and Drug Administration. The case was prosecuted by the United States
Attorney for the District of Maryland.
"We applaud our federal law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney's
Office for their support of U.S. efforts to protect sturgeon and paddlefish,"
Jones said. "Putting a stop to illegal caviar trade will be crucial to
the continued survival of these fish species."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency
responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife
and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American
people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge
System, which encompasses more than 530 national wildlife refuges, thousands
of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates
66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological
services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws,
administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations,
restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife
habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation
efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds
of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment
to state fish and wildlife agencies.
Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
invite wildlife and fisheries enforcement officers from all jurisdictions
to submit current and significant cases for inclusion in the Game Warden's
Notebook segment of the publication. All details must be accurate public
record. Please send the details and photographs of case files to:
THE ALBERTA GAME WARDEN
5201 - 50 Avenue
Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada T9A 0S7