A Houston chef is being accused by state wildlife officials of participating in an illegal seafood network that funneled tons of unlawfully caught fish to his businesses.

The network is made up of about a dozen unlicensed commercial fishermen who caught fish off the Texas coast and sold them to Houston-area restaurants, state wildlife officials said. The catches included protected fish species, including red snapper, tuna, amberjack, grouper and red drum.

State investigators said they suspect the network began operating in 2013, and could be the largest of its kind in Texas history.

“This is a big deal and exemplifies the critically important work our Texas game wardens do to protect the state’s natural resources,” said Col. Craig Hunter, the department’s law enforcement director.

“That is not something we in law enforcement will tolerate and we are confident these individuals will be prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows.”

A break in the investigation came in April 2016, when the U.S. Coast Guard stopped a commercial fishing boat in coastal waters near Freeport. The boat was carrying 1,900 pounds of red snapper.

Game wardens and the National Marine Fisheries Service seized the fish, which officials allege were illegally caught in the Gulf of Mexico off Freeport and Galveston, according to department. Investigators assert they were able to link the subjects with the illegal seafood operation.

On Wednesday, the department said that Bruce Molzan, 59, of Houston, bought fish through the network, and then sold them at two restaurants with which he had been associated.

Molzan was charged with unlawful purchase of aquatic products by a restaurant, and the sale and purchase of protected finfish. Both charges are misdemeanors.

Molzan is the owner of Ruggles Black, an Indian-French-American-Paleo eatery on Kirby Drive in Houston. He sold Ruggles Green, which has locations in Houston’s River Oaks, the Heights and the CityCentre development, in October 2016.

Wardens have written more than 200 Class C misdemeanor citations related to their investigation of the network, officials said.

Two unnamed recreational anglers from Freeport were charged with felonies in connection with the case.

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com. Follow him on Twitter, @johnwferguson.


(3) comments

Bill Cochrane

It appears that Mr. Ferguson used information from a Texas Parks & Wildlife press release for his story, but the press release is off base in nomenclature. It states: “The network is made up of about a dozen ‘unlicensed commercial fishermen’ ” which in my opinion casts a shadow on the commercial fishery. Calling a poacher, or thief a “unlicensed commercial fisherman” is like calling a person that is impersonating a physician - a “Doctor”. The imposter has no medical license, and is not called a “Doctor” when caught. At the end of the story, it says that two “recreational anglers in Freeport”, which in my opinion is wrong too. They, too, are simply theives and poachers.

PD Hyatt

Much or our media do not really care about the truth as facts usually get in their way of a good story.... Journalism as it used to be known has died from liberalism....

Gary Scoggin

What does this story have to do with "liberalism"?

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