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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Two commercial fishermen from Kentucky illegally harvested paddlefish and paddlefish roe from a Mississippi lake, and it cost them their livelihood for five years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi announced.

James Lawrence “Lance” Freeman, 27, of Eddyville, Kentucky, and Marcus Harrell, 34, of Murray, Kentucky, pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Lacey Act on multiple occasions in 2018 for the purpose of harvesting paddlefish from Moon Lake in Coahoma County, Mississippi.

According to prosecutors, Freeman or Harrell would take roe they harvested from paddlefish in Moon Lake back to Kentucky to sell to commercial processors, falsely claiming that the paddlefish had been caught in the Ohio River or other places in or near Kentucky where the harvest of paddlefish was legal. Moon Lake was closed to paddlefish harvesting.  

Freeman was sentenced to six months in prison, a $20,000 fine and three years of supervised release. He was banned from all fishing, commercial or recreational, for five years. Harrell was sentenced to probation and a fine and also was banned from fishing for five years.

The roe, or eggs, from the North American paddlefish, a freshwater relative of the sturgeon, is sold as caviar. Prices can reach hundreds of dollars per pound from online sellers.