Illegally harvesting Florida's most important sport fish is serious business, as a woman and two men in Brevard County found out recently. They are each facing numerous misdemeanor charges for snook and red drum violations after Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer Kris Culver watched them catch and put the fish in their car at Sebastian Inlet during the night of Jan. 6.
Fernando Pantoja (DOB 05/02/80), of Okeechobee; Kenneth William Weber (DOB 10/09/64), of Vero Beach; and Gloria Lynn Melton (DOB 04/01/64) of Melbourne are each charged with possession of snook out of season, illegal method for harvesting snook (cast net), over-the-bag-limit of snook, possession of undersized red drum, and over-the-bag-limit of red drum. The number of illegal fish totaled 26 red drum, four snook and one black drum. Culver donated them to a local charitable organization.
In addition to being subject to the base penalties, which are second-degree misdemeanors and carry maximum penalties of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine per count, the alleged violators are also subject to enhanced penalties for major violations. This designation upgrades the penalties to first-degree misdemeanors, which carry a maximum of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine per count, and additional fines of a maximum of $100 per snook.
The suspects are scheduled to appear before a judge at the Melbourne Courthouse at 9 a.m. on Feb. 18.
"Many people enjoy fishing onshore at Sebastian Inlet. Unfortunately, some people don't follow the rules, which not only is bad news for them when we catch them, it is also stealing from ethical anglers who fish legally," said Culver.
If you know of illegal fishing, hunting, wildlife or boating activity, please report it to the FWC through the agency's Wildlife Alert Hotline. The number is 888-404-3922 and is open 24 hours, seven days a week. Callers may remain anonymous and could be eligible for a reward if their information leads to an arrest.
FWC Officer Kris Culver caught the suspects with 4 illegal snook, 26 red drum and 1 black drum. (FWC photo by Kris Culver)