By CBS13 Staff

KNIGHTS LANDING (CBS13) – A total of nine people have been arrested after an investigation into a large suspected sturgeon poaching operation along Sacramento Valley waterways.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife says the investigation started as two separate cases, but a connection between the suspects led them to uncovering the larger operation.

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Wildlife officers started investigating back in May 2021. Two men – 31-year-old Andrew Chao and 35-year-old Ay Pou Saechao – were suspected of catching sturgeon, them selling them to another group, four members of the Petryanik family. That incident has already led to poaching charges against Chao and the Petryanik family.

However, officials say they started investigating Chao and Saechao again in January 2022 for another alleged poaching incident of sturgeon from the Sacramento River near Knights Landing. In this incident, wildlife officers say they found a live 85.5” white sturgeon in Chao’s vehicle that they were able to return to the water.

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As a result of that Knights Landing investigation, wildlife officials say they found an alleged link between Chao and Saechao to another poaching case. At least 36 sturgeon are believed to have been poached in this case, with the suspects reportedly using juvenile salmon as bait.

Authorities also allege that some of the suspects were poaching and selling abalone and sport-harvested crabs on the illegal market.

The case has led to search warrants and more arrests. Along with Chao and Saechao, the following suspects are now all facing charges: Huan Van Nguyen, 72, of Elk Grove, Lai Chow Saechao, 34, Ou Hin Saetern, 37, Sengon Saechao, 32, Andy Serncho Saephanh, 35, Nai Fow Saechao, 39, and Choy Gwen Saephan, 32, all of Sacramento.

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Officers have also discovered at least five unlawfully possessed deer along with a number of weapons – including a “ghost” gun.