A federally protected 5-foot fish is swimming again after being poached in Northern California. The illegal take happened at a popular fishing spot near Tracy. A witness called the state’s poaching hotline to report a man catching a green sturgeon and stuffing it in the back of his SUV. The tipster also had photos of the poacher’s license plate. “I always tell people, don’t put yourself in harm’s way to try to obtain the information you think would be valuable to us,”  California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) game warden Matt Henderson told The Sacramento Bee. “But anytime we can get a license plate, that’s some of the most valuable information we can get because it’ll tie us to a name or a location where you know illegally taken fish or game may be returning.”

Henderson and two other wildlife officers were 90 minutes from the address matching the plate: the home of Kevin Ty Tran. Henderson expected to find a dead fish upon arrival, as is common in poaching cases. But surprisingly, when they searched the suspect’s car at his house, they found that the sturgeon’s gills were still moving even though it was folded in the back of a Toyota Rav 4 and had been out of water for at least two hours. According to the CDFW, the game wardens documented “quickly photographed it as evidence for the court and issued a citation to the suspect…Then they raced to a nearby boat ramp with the fish. It took 90 minutes of effort to revive the stressed sturgeon, but it was successfully released and biologists say that its chances of survival appear good.”

California hosts white and green sturgeon, which spend most of their lives in the Pacific Ocean but come inland to spawn. A limited take of white sturgeon is allowed, but green sturgeon are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. If members of the species are caught accidentally in white sturgeon fishing zones, they must be released immediately and reported on the angler’s report card.

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The CDFW posted a video of the sturgeon’s release on Facebook. The slow-swimming 64-inch green sturgeon is estimated to be somewhere between 25 and 30 years old. (Sturgeon are notoriously long-lived and slow-growing.) The long-term survival of the fish remains unknown. Meanwhile, Tran faces three misdemeanors: unlawful take, failing to release a protected fish, and failing to properly record his catch. The case is currently being prosecuted by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office.