The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) arrested four people over the weekend for possession of undersized and illegal species.
Saturday, as a result of an ongoing marine resource investigation, FWC officers conducted stops on two suspect vessels. These stops revealed undersized and illegal species onboard each vessel.
On one of the vessels, stopped in the Gordon Pass area of Naples, FWC officers located two goliath grouper filets and 86 red grouper. Eighty-five of the red grouper were undersized, some as small as 12 inches. These fish were located in a hidden compartment, which was detected by an FWC K-9.
The second vessel, stopped in the Caxambas Pass near Marco Island, had a similar hidden compartment, which contained parts of a sea turtle, 13 goliath grouper filets, 119 red grouper, five oversized permit and several other fish. Eighty-eight of the red grouper were undersized.
The operators and occupants were placed under arrest for poaching and the vessels were seized. The arrests include David Vazquez (DOB 06/18/1972) of Naples, who was operating the first vessel, and Jorge Escalona (DOB 10/22/1971) who was operating the second vessel. The second vessel had three occupants in addition to Escalona. Two of them were also arrested: Jose Escalona Ferral (DOB 02/27/1970) and Adnier Lobaina Lopez (DOB 02/20/1978). The other occupant, a juvenile, was released to a guardian.
"These arrests illustrate how dedicated FWC is to conserving natural resources in Florida," said FWC Maj. Alfredo Escanio. "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 individuals arrested will face charges including over-the-bag-limit red grouper, undersized red grouper, possession of undersized yellowtail snapper and oversized African pompano, possession of goliath grouper and possession of a marine turtle. Neither operator possessed a commercial fishing license. These charges range from second-degree misdemeanors to third-degree felonies and could carry penalties of up to five years in prison and fines of up to $5,000.
Harvest and possession of goliath grouper is prohibited in both state and federal waters. All sea turtle species in Florida are considered either endangered or threatened and are listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act and Florida's Marine Turtle Protection Act. To learn more about salt water fishing regulations in Florida, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and select "Saltwater Fishing" and "Recreational Regulations."
To report a fish, wildlife, boating or environmental law violation, contact the FWC's Wildlife Alert Reward Program by texting or emailing Tip@MyFWC.com, calling 888-404-FWCC (3922) or dialing *FWC from your cell phone.