Guilty pleas entered in Oklahoma paddlefish eggs case
BY DAVID HARPER World Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2013
2/21/13 at 8:00 PM
Four men have pleaded guilty in Tulsa federal court to violating the law through their handling of Oklahoma paddlefish eggs.
James Chapman, 50, of Swifton, Ark., and Jay C. Witt, 46, of Pineville, Mo., as well as Sulphur Springs, Ark., residents Jeremy Waldrip, 32, and Lee A. Jobe, 37, all entered the pleas Wednesday.
Chapman stated in his plea agreement that he knew it was illegal to transport unfrozen paddlefish eggs out of the state of Oklahoma and to co-mingle paddlefish eggs.
Paddlefish are sharklike plankton-eaters that can grow as large as 200 pounds, making them one of the largest freshwater fish.
Paddlefish eggs are seen by some as a more available and affordable alternative to the caviar associated with sturgeon that are taken from the Caspian Sea.
Chapman said in his plea agreement that on multiple occasions in 2007 and 2008 he was part of a group that "snagged" paddlefish in northeastern Oklahoma. He stated that in 2007 he sold about 250 pounds of paddlefish eggs to a commercial fisherman in Missouri for between $6,000 and $7,000.
At some point in 2008, he was paid $1,620 for paddlefish eggs by a fisherman, he said.
Chapman also detailed an April 22, 2008, transaction in which he received only $120 from a paddlefish egg sale that didn't prove lucrative because 40 of the 44 pounds had spoiled.
Witt, Waldrip and Jobe said in their plea agreements that they gave away the eggs from paddlefish they caught in Oklahoma. However, they admitted knowing that the eggs would be sold and that they were breaking the law.
The four men are all free on bond and are scheduled to be sentenced on May 23. They all pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges filed on Feb. 7 by Claire Whitney, a senior trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice's Environmental Crimes Section. The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The four men face no more than one year in prison.
A biologist tags different sizes of paddlefish pulled from Oklahoma's Grand Lake during an annual fish count. Tulsa World file