A former Shell Knob man pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally taking paddlefish eggs from Table Rock Lake and selling them as caviar.
Thomas Jerry Nix, Jr., 39, who now lives in Memphis, Tenn., entered his plea of guilty on Sept. 10 before U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. England. The charges against Nix were publicized after a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on July 9.
Nix admitted that from December 2007 to Feb. 17, 2008, he conspired with another unnamed person to engage in illegal commercial fishing for American paddlefish on Table Rock Lake and then illegally taking the paddlefish eggs, processing them into caviar and selling that caviar in interstate commerce.
Using three gill nets and a GPS receiver to mark the location of the nets, Nix collected the eggs from the netted paddlefish by hand and then moved the nets as the paddlefish moved upstream to spawn. In an effort to hide his illegal activity, Nix and his accomplice sank the carcasses of the paddlefish they killed by weighting them down with rocks.
After processing the paddlefish eggs into caviar, Nix packaged the product in plastic containers, which were weight and labeled with labels supplied by a Tennessee company. Periodically, Nix and his co-conspirator would transport the paddlefish caviar from Nix's residence in Shell Knob to three separate locations in Tennessee.
Nix sold approximately 387 pounds of paddlefish caviar to the Tennessee company for a total or $35,820.
On the night of Feb. 17, agents with the Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service apprehended Nix as he returned from another illegal fishing trip on Table Rock. At the time of his arrest, Nix possessed 78.3 pounds of unprocessed paddlefish eggs. Upon a search of residence, agents found an additional 91.32 pounds of processed paddlefish caviar.
Nix also led the conservation agents to his three gill nets, which were still set up in Table Rock Lake. The agents retrieved the nets and released 17 live paddlefish that were caught in nets, which are illegal for sport fishing.
A number of Missouri laws and regulations were violated by Nix during the commission of his crime, including 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. Paddlefish eggs are also subject to United States Food and Drug Administration regulations, and because Nix did not have a permit to process paddlefish eggs, provisions of the Food and Drug Administration Act were violated.
With a guilty plea, Nix forfeits to the government a 20-foot Bumblebee 200 Pro boat and trailer with 225-horsepower Mariner motor, a GPS unit and miscellaneous fishing equipment that were used to commit the offense.