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.