US sturgeon scientist accused in caviar scheme
Caviar (Shutterstock)

The fish eggs were supposed to be for research, not for eating -- but a US biologist reportedly known as Wisconsin's "sturgeon general" was hatching another plan.

An alleged caviar racket, in which sturgeon eggs meant for a research study were being sold and processed as food, has landed Wisconsin's top sturgeon biologist, Ryan Koenigs, in hot water.

The scientist allegedly accepted at least $20,000 in kickbacks in the form of jars of caviar from a processor in exchange for eggs intended for research, according to the New York Times, citing a Winnebago County filing.

Catching sturgeon, a freshwater fish whose eggs are turned into caviar, is allowed during the month of February on frozen Lake Winnebago, in the northern state of Wisconsin.

According to the Times, eggs must be either returned to the person who speared the sturgeon or thrown away under state law, while local news station Fox 11 reported that it is illegal to barter processing for a portion of the product.

Wardens employed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had been instructed to collect sturgeon eggs that fishers did not want to keep, for use in a research program, Fox 11 reported.

An investigation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, conducted since 2017, resulted in charges filed against Koenigs in recent days for obstructing an investigation by a conservation warden and misdemeanor theft, the Times said.

Three other people involved in the affair who were not part of the research program were also arrested.

In an email to the New York Times, Koenigs's attorney said he would plead not guilty.

The complaint states that this sort of scheme is nothing new.

"This sort of arrangement had been established prior to Koenigs taking over a leadership role, and continued under Koenigs, despite a warning from DNR wardens in 2011 that DNR fisheries staff needed to be disposing of eggs or returning them to the spearer after research was completed," it said, according to Fox 11 news.

According to the station, Koenigs is now under administrative suspension at the Department of Natural Resources.