After months of investigating, California police found the 7-foot sturgeon-sized key to unlock a massive poaching ring.
On March 12, 2022, police pulled over 31-year-old Andrew Chao. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) had been closely watching Chao for nearly a year. Now, they had finally uncovered substantial evidence.
While searching his vehicle, they found a gigantic, live white sturgeon that could barely fit into his small sedan. Chao secured the 85.5-inch fish to the trunk with straps. The current condition of the fish is unknown.
White sturgeon are among the longest surviving fish species known to man. Even still, California recognizes them as “species of special concern.”
Because of this, it is paramount for anglers to follow state regulations and restrictions. Anglers in the state can keep one sturgeon per day and just three per year. The fish must also measure between 40 and 60 inches in length.
After arraigning Chao, CDFW were able to also eight other suspected poachers. According to the CDFW press release, officers “believe the suspects caught a combined total of at least 36 sturgeon.”
Sturgeon weren’t the only species that this poaching ring had acquired – the suspects also had the poached remains of at least five deer. Other illegal materials on hand included “1,000 pounds of illegal cannabis, various other illegal narcotics, $57,000 in cash and counterfeit currency, an unlawfully possessed AR-15, a ‘ghost gun’ with no serial number, and a fully-automatic handgun,” according to MeatEater.
Individuals Part of California Poaching Ring Also Facing Previous Charges
Prior to the discovery of the large sturgeon in the back of Chao’s trunk, the CDFW had also charged Chao for another poaching instance. He and another man, Ay Pou Saechao, had poaching sturgeon from San Francisco waterways. They then sold the eggs, a prized commodity, in the city.
The CDFW reports that sturgeon “females produce an average of 5,648 eggs per kilogram of body weight, and a 60-inch individual averages over 200,000 eggs.”
Those who bought the eggs are also facing charges for intent to sell caviar on the illegal market.
In response to the breakthrough in the investigation, the CDFW released an official statement.
“I am proud of the dedicated wildlife officers who spent countless hours investigating this wildlife trafficking case to protect our native sturgeon population, which is already severely affected by historic drought conditions,” CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess said in the press release. “Wildlife trafficking, coupled with suspected narcotics trafficking discovered in this investigation, is motivated by greed and personal profit. We take it seriously when poachers commercialize our wildlife, and we will continue to do everything we can to bring these individuals to justice.”