Wildlife officials must love social media, especially when it leads to the arrests of so many poachers. Common wisdom dictates that when you do something illegal, the last thing you would want to do is to document it online, but apparently poachers never got the memo. This picture of a massive 83-pound flathead catfish was shared widely on Facebook and through news outlets last summer, but it wasn’t long before it drew the attention of the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). At first, local media reported that the fish was caught by Anthony Stacy through limb-lining on Clearwater Lake last July. It was an impressive catch that any angler could be proud of, if that story was real. An investigation by MDC officials later found that Stacy actually harvested the catfish illegally by bowfishing, and that was not the only fish he caught with an arrow, either. In Missouri, bowfishing is legal for taking only non-game fish such as invasive Asian carp. Officials say that the latest violations for Stacy are only part of a recent spree that included 19 separate wildlife violations across three counties.
“Based on research on other fish taken in our state, I would guess that 83-pound catfish was somewhere around 25 years old,” said MDC fisheries management biologist Dave Knuth. “Unfortunately, due to the way the fish was taken and that we don’t have access to it, we’ll never know exactly how old it was.”
According to KVFS, the fish was described as fatigued after the fight and unable to be released. Of course, bowfishing generally doesn’t tend to leave fish in a condition where they can be returned. The catfish was later cooked and eaten by the group Stacy was fishing with. Stacy added that he and his family had a long history of fishing in Clearwater Lake, but officials might argue that is not the only place that he left a mark. Stacy currently has 13 pending wildlife violation cases in St. Francois, Reynolds and Jefferson counties. The Farmington native took a plea bargain in the case of the catfish and will pay a fine of $500.
“This man’s actions took away the potential for a fishermen to legally catch a once-in-a-lifetime fish,” Conservation Agent Tyler Harding, who conducted the investigation on Stacy, said in a press release. “However, most hunters and anglers are law-abiding citizens who want their catches to be ethical. That’s what makes a good outdoorsman, and that’s the kind of legacy we need in order to keep Missouri as a great place to hunt and fish.”
Spurred on by other recent poaching investigations, some in Missouri say they support sterner punishments—and more expensive fines—for wildlife violations. Some say that relatively light fines amount to what is essentially a slap on the wrist, and does not make for an adequate deterrent against poaching.