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Tennessee Fish Dealers Guilty of Federal Wildlife Violations


May 21, 2002

Christine Eustis, USFWS, (404) 679-7287
Sonny Richardson, TWRA, (615) 781-6580

On Thursday, May 16, Franklin and Carolyn Hale, doing business as Royaloff Caviar, Savannah, Tennessee, were found guilty of six felony violations of the Lacey Act and conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. Charges included purchasing paddlefish caviar which was harvested during closed Tennessee seasons and in closed waters, sale of caviar in interstate commerce which was taken in violation of state laws, purchasing fish without being licensed as a wholesale fish dealer by the State of Tennessee, and creating false documents to conceal the identities of fishermen and locations where the paddlefish eggs were taken. Special agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and wildlife investigators from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) worked together to prepare the case against the defendants.

In addition, Wendy Haney-Melson, daughter of Franklin and Carolyn Hale, was found guilty of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act for her role in creating false documents and purchasing paddlefish caviar taken during closed seasons and from closed waters.

“There is a global market for our natural resources and without constant vigilance, we will lose the fish and wildlife populations which are a cornerstone of our quality of life,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director, USFWS. “Such public resources must be managed for the benefit of all citizens. I applaud our federal wildlife agents and state wildlife officers who stand shoulder-to-shoulder to combat commercial poachers who would rob Americans of our natural heritage.”

Sentencing is scheduled for August 12, 2002 in U.S. District Court, Western District of Tennessee, Jackson, Tennessee. Penalties for each violation of the Lacey Act, a federal Class D felony, include up to five years imprisonment and $250,000 fine for an individual or $500,000 fine for an organization. Federal sentencing guidelines also consider the value of wildlife and role of each individual in establishing an appropriate sentence.

TWRA Executive Director Gary Myers stated “The paddlefish is an important component of Tennessee’s wildlife diversity. We establish regulations designed to protect this resource for the enjoyment of future generations. When individuals violate those regulations, they diminish the quality of our aquatic resources. Hopefully, we have prevented any further losses through the coordinated efforts of TWRA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

The Lacey Act is a federal statute which makes in unlawful to sell, receive, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce, any wildlife taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law or regulation of any state.

A joint investigation by officers of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and special agents of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service determined that over 8,400 pounds of paddlefish caviar with an estimated black market value of $483,000 (which is far lower than the ultimate retail value) were illegally taken and sold in interstate commerce by participants in the conspiracy. According to researchers, each female with eggs provides an average of 7 pounds of caviar and it is not uncommon for commercial fishermen to sacrifice a minimum of 4-5 males and females without eggs for each female with eggs. Therefore, it would take at least between 5-6,000 paddlefish taken from the wild to produce 8,400 pounds of caviar.

The United States is not only a major consumer of fish and wildlife resources, but for many species such as the American paddlefish, it is also a source of supply to meet the worldwide demand. According to INTERPOL (the International Police Organization) the black market value of fish and wildlife products rivals narcotics in international trade.

With the demise of the Soviet Union and the depletion of European and Asian sturgeon populations, American paddlefish have experienced increased pressure to meet the demand of caviar gourmets. In 1992, due to an increased demand for paddlefish caviar and continued decrease in the population, the American paddlefish was afforded international protection by being listed as a species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The United States is a partner with more than 155 other nations around the world as a signatory to the CITES treaty to control the commercial trade in fish, wildlife and plant species. All other species of sturgeon and paddlefish were added to the CITES list in 1998.

Within the U.S., various states throughout the Mississippi River drainage expressed concern and enacted seasons and regulations to manage and sustain paddlefish populations. Recognizing that management regulations are ineffective without enforcement, and the commercial value of caviar was creating an enormous threat to paddlefish and domestic sturgeon species within the U.S., special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’ Division of Law Enforcement joined forces with investigators of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Law Enforcement Division and the Office of the United States Attorney of the Western District of Tennessee to investigate the illegal caviar trade. Officers of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries also assisted in the investigation. The joint operation resulted in the apprehension and successful prosecution of several individuals including Frank and Carolyn Hale and Wendy Haney-Melson. This is the fifth conviction resulting from an intensive investigation into the illegal paddlefish trade by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state agencies in the Southeast. In addition, there are several pending prosecutions throughout the U.S. that relate to the illegal caviar trade.

For B-roll of paddlefish please contact the Christine Eustis, Fish and Wildlife Service at (404) 679-7287. Visit our website at

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2001 News Releases

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