Saturday, November 23, 2002

Researcher denies fish poaching

The Associated Press

OWENSBORO, Ky. - A prominent researcher who is accused of illegally trafficking in paddlefish - the source of much domestic caviar - pleaded innocent of the charge and was scheduled for trial in January.

Steven Mims was released on his own recognizance after a hearing Thursday in Owensboro. Trial was set for Jan. 30 in Owensboro.

Mr. Mims is charged with violating the Lacey Act for shipping paddlefish eggs that were caught in violation of Kentucky law and transporting them in interstate commerce. According to the indictment, Mr.Mims shipped the caviar to New York.

Mr. Mims, who has a doctoral degree in aquaculture, has written extensively on paddlefish. He is a member of the faculty at Kentucky State University's aquaculture program, which includes more than a decade of research into trying to raise paddlefish commercially.

According to the indictment, between Sept. 1, 2001 and May 2002, paddlefish were being scooped up with gill nets. There is no federal law against that, only a state regulation that prohibits fishing in the area roughly from the lock openings upstream to the dam.

But it is a federal violation when fish that are improperly caught under state rules are then shipped across state lines. Under the Lacey Act, such a shipment can bring 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.

Mr. Mims' attorney, Kevin McNally, said the charge stems from a financial disagreement between Mr. Mims and the man who was helping him catch the paddlefish.

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