Song of the spoonbill
Our May issue included a feature about the feud between good ol’ boys and caviar-crazed Russians in the Missouri Ozarks, where people from all over the country come to snag giant fish known as spoonbill.
Warsaw, on the Lake of the Ozarks, has the best spoonbill snagging in the world. For six weeks, starting on March 15, the town is overrun with snaggers. However, Missouri law allows only two catches per day and limits total possession to only four fish per person in the season.
The rules also tightly restrict the transportation of the fish’s precious black roe, which is a substitute for pricey beluga caviar. A major bust of poachers has inflamed tensions between longtime spoonbillers and Slavic newcomers seeking to land fish with up to $4,000 worth of caviar in its belly.
Here’s how readers reacted to the story:
“‘After six weeks of reeling in 120 pounds of fish per day, their deep freezes are stuffed with spoonbill fillets.’ After nearly six weeks of breaking the law, the game warden comes over and sees that they have more than their limit of two daily possessions of fish. Who are the real poachers, the Russians or the retired maintenance man from West
Plains, Missouri?” —Jason boatright, clinton, Mo.
“What is funny is the daily limit is two and the possession limit is four! So this story is wrote about poachers being mad about poachers!” —Robert Kleinsorge, Mexico, Mo.
“We all need to be careful. We were snagging from the bank up the Bates County drainage ditch. Next to us were two Russians. There was two of them and two of us. They had three males; we had one female each. One of the Russians offered me two males for one female. Due to the way the limit regulations read, that would have put me over limit and limited them out. Plus, this is a grey area as to the pure legality of doing that type swap. I reported the attempt to Trish Yeager, and she passed it on to the conservation officer in Bates County. So it is not just Lake of the Ozarks. They are all up and down the fishery. Please report any suspicious activity immediately. We have to stop this.” —Dennis Hull, Belton, Mo.
“Wouldn’t it be easier for the foreigners to approach paddle fisherman and offer cash money for the eggs? Paddle fishing is hard, and some people are very poor. So a $500 offer for one fish’s eggs that they only planned on throwing out would be a lucrative transaction. I would bet that they have deals with fisherman and are NOT out there trawling for fish themselves. Why do that when you can get far more eggs farming the locals? The exposure of being out on the lake would make bulk acquisition impossible. It’s not too hard to find people that need quick cash in rural Missouri.” —Kevin Ahern, De Soto, Mo.