Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission informed that its officer had made a big discovery over the weekend: nearly 800 spiny lobster tails, most undersized, hidden in a small compartment of a hot, roach-ridden boat cabin in the Florida Keys. Officer Jill Izsak told that the guys who have been here for 20 years said it’s one of the biggest cases they’ve ever seen.
According to Izsak Capt. Roberto Beltran, 57, and Benito Estepe, 66, both of Carol City, and Leonardo Cancio, 56, of Boot Key, were arrested and taken to Marathon jail, charged with two felonies and several state fishing violations. He informed that the charges: trap molesting, grand theft, undersized catch and wrung lobster tails on the water, meaning the edible tails were separated from the discarded bodies before the boat reached shore.
FWC spokesman Bobby Dube told that the men each face up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine and forfeiture of the 40-foot fishing boat, Kristal, which was seized as evidence. Scott Zimmerman, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, pointed out that over the past few years, trap robbing and illegal fishing have become an increasing problem in the Keys due to the growing economic struggles of commercial fishermen and the cutback of law enforcement to patrol the thousands of square miles of water.
According to Dube the FWC’s new patrol boat, the Marathon-based Seahawk, which has triple engines, has helped. He informed that on Friday, FWC officers arrested Lazaro Echevarria, 22, and Wilfredo Echevarria, 18, of Homestead, on several charges, including robbing 10 stone crab claws from a private trap, a third-degree felony. Zimmerman said every case is important, no matter the size of the illegal catch.