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Mother, Son Sentenced in Poaching Scheme

October 29, 2003

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Mother-and-son leaders of a West Coast sturgeon poaching ring were sentenced to partially suspended prison terms, capping a two-year undercover probe dubbed Operation Delta Beluga after the prized Russian caviar.

Tamara Andreyevna Bugriyev, 51, and her son, Yuriy Stanislavovich Bugriyev, 28, were each sentenced Tuesday to 150 days in prison with time suspended for both.

Authorities said they sold roe from Sacramento-San Joaquin River white sturgeon through California, Oregon and Washington, mainly within the Russian community as a substitute for premium Caspian Sea caviar.

They faced the only felony allegations among 20 Sacramento-area residents charged with catching, selling or possessing the bony, bottom-feeding fish.

Commercial fishing and selling of sturgeon parts or eggs is illegal in California, and recreational fishermen are limited to catching one of the giant fish each day.

The laws are meant to protect a population that was nearly fished to extinction in the early 1900s, and has been slow to recover because the fish mature slowly and breed rarely.

Over the past three years, several individuals and companies have been accused of trafficking illegally in domestic caviar, violating endangered species laws, and misrepresenting local roe as rare Russian caviar.

Tamara Bugriyev had 60 days of her sentence suspended and she can avoid the remaining 90 by performing community service. Yuriy Bugriyev was ordered to serve 60 days in prison and the remaining 90 on work projects. The mother was fined $1,000 and the son $5,000 on their August guilty pleas.

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