A Wisconsin man dubbed the state’s “sturgeon general” is accused of accepting jars of caviar in exchange for supplying eggs that had been collected to a caviar processor, according to a criminal complaint.
Ryan P. Koenigs, 36, of Appleton, a biologist who works for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, was charged last week in Calumet County with one count of obstructing an investigation by a conservation warden, The New York Times reported.
According to a criminal complaint, Koenigs, who has worked for the department since 2008 and began overseeing the sturgeon spearing season four years later, accepted at least $20,000 of caviar. Prosecutors also alleged that Koenigs had reset a state-issued cellphone in an attempt to conceal evidence.
Koenigs was also charged with one count of misdemeanor theft in Winnebago County, WBAY reported.
Koenigs was one of four people charged by prosecutors in three different counties
Criminal misdemeanor charges of unlawful sale of game fish were filed in Fond du Lac County against Shawn M. Wendt, 51, Oakfield; and Mary L. Schneider, 87, Fond du Lac; and Victor R. Scheinder, 88., according to WBAY.
The charges stem from a three-year investigation, according to The Washington Post.
Investigators interviewed Koenigs in January 2020. He said DNR registration workers collect eggs as part of a fertility study, The Associated Press reported. If a spearer wants the eggs back, the workers will not collect them or they’ll return them after they’ve been studied, Koenigs said.
Caviar is made from curing the eggs of wild sturgeon. During the month of February, the state of Wisconsin allows a limited number of residents to go to Lake Winnebago and attempt to spear the prehistoric fish, the Post reported. Some of the lake sturgeon can exceed 100 pounds and yield caviar that can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the newspaper.
According to Eater.com, “entry-level” sturgeon caviar costs $65 to $85 per 30 grams. Higher quality will go for $150 per 30 grams.
Under Wisconsin state law, spearfishermen are entitled to keep any caviar from their catch but are not allowed to sell it.
According to the criminal complaint filed in Winnebago County, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were investigating reports of sturgeon eggs being illegally bought, sold or bartered around Lake Winnebago since at least 2017, WBAY reported. Investigators found a “concerted effort to funnel sturgeon roe to particular processors for caviar production” collected from the catch of sturgeon spearers. “This operation was overseen … by DNR fisheries biologist Ryan P. Koenigs,” the complaint alleges.
Scott Ceman, a lawyer for Koenigs, told the Times in an email that his client would plead not guilty. He declined to comment further on the case.
A spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources said on Sunday night that Koenigs had been placed on administrative leave, the newspaper reported.
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