California wildlife officers have arrested eight people on suspicion of poaching white sturgeon from Sacramento Valley waterways, and intent to sell the fish and their products on an illegal market. At least two of the men were known repeat offenders. A ninth man was arrested on suspicion of selling Dungeness crab and red abalone to illegal markets.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife said on April 21 that it was initially investigating two separate poaching cases when they discovered a connection between the suspects, leading the CDFW to merge two cases into one.
In May 2021, wildlife officers began investigating Oakland residents Andre Chao, 31, and Ay Pou Saechao, 35, for allegedly catching sturgeon removing the sturgeon’s eggs and selling them to three San Francisco individuals, who were suspected of processing the sturgeon roe into caviar and selling it on the illegal wildlife market. That investigation is still pending,
Chao and Saechao were investigated in January 2022 regarding alleged boating if sturgeon from the Sacramento River. During a traffic stop on March 14, officers found an 8
5.5-inch white sturgeon in the back of Chao’s vehicle. The fish was still alive, and after taking evidence photos the officers returned the sturgeon to the water.
During their investigation, officers also found a link connecting Chao and Saechao to another, simultaneous investigation involving multiple sturgeon poaching suspects. Chao was again arrested, along with Saechao and six others.
Charges include conspiracy to poach sturgeon and multiple violations related to sturgeon fishing, such as unlawful possession of sturgeon, possession of oversized and/or undersized sturgeon, sturgeon tagging violations and the unlawful sale of sturgeon caviar and meat.
Wildlife officers also said that they discovered at least five unlawfully possessed deer, abalone, five illegal firearms including a full-auto handgun, a “ghost gun” with no serial number and an unlawfully possessed AR-15 assault rifle.
Officers also said they found illegal narcotics intended for sale, including more than 1,000 pounds of illegal cannabis, and more than $57,000 in cash and counterfeit money.
During surveillance of the suspects while they were fishing, wildlife officers said they observed dozens of counts of littering, as the suspects routinely discarded their beverage containers and food wrappers into the river.