The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission arrest four people in a major poaching bust.
The poachers will be facing possible prison time and up to $5,000 after they were arrested for possession of undersized and protected grouper and sea turtles last Saturday, the FWC announced in a press release.
Two different boats were stopped and found to be possession of undersized and protected species of fish and sea turtle.
The people on the boats did not possess commercial fishing licenses and now face charges ranging from misdemeanors to third-degree felonies.
The arrests come as a result of a major, and according to the release, still-ongoing marine resource investigation.
“These arrests illustrate how dedicated FWC is to conserving natural resources in Florida,” FWC Maj. Alfredo Escanio said in the release. “This case is something our officers and investigators put together over time and serves as an example to others; illegal acts like poaching are a serious threat to resource conservation and will not be tolerated.”
The first boat was stopped in the Gordon Pass area of Naples. Officers stopped a boat operated by 43-year-old David Vazquez of Naples. The officers then used a K-9 to locate 86 red grouper fillets, 85 of which were undersized in a hidden compartment on the boat.
They also located two goliath grouper filets. Goliath grouper are illegal to harvest or possess in state and federal waters.
The other poachers had violations much worse than the first. Officers stopped the boat in Caxambas Pass near Marco Island.
On board they found a hidden compartment similar to have a similar to the first boat. Inside were fillets of 13 goliath grouper, 119 red grouper, 88 of which were undersized. Also found were five oversized permit and other fish.
Perhaps most surprising, the officers also located parts of a sea turtle, a federally-protected species that is considered endangered in Florida.
The second boat was operated by 44-year-old Jorge Escalona. Also onboard were 45-year-old Jose Escalona Ferral and 37-year-old Adnier Lobaina Lopez. A juvenile third occupant, who was not named, was released to a guardian.
Other violations in the case included possession of undersized yellowtail snapper and oversized African pompano. It was not specified on which boat they occurred.