CCA Applauds FWC for Uncovering Commercial Illegal Wildlife Ring
For immediate release: November 14, 2012
Contact: Katie Purcell
FWC Community Relations Coordinator
Division of Law Enforcement
FWC Investigation Uncovers Illegal Commercial Wildlife Ring
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers completed a comprehensive investigation Wednesday that included more than 200 criminal violations by 21 individuals in Orange, Lake, Osceola, Polk and St. Lucie counties. The 22-month operation targeted individuals who illegally bought fish and wildlife products in Florida and shipped them out of state to be sold to the public.
“The suspects were ultimately working together in a criminal conspiracy,” said Maj. Curtis Brown, head of the FWC’s Investigations section.
Officers determined the suspects were buying products from poachers and unlicensed individuals and shipping them to markets out of state. Today, they shut them down. Those out-of-state markets are still being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This was a large-scale illegal poaching operation with serious implications for the environment, economy and public health,” Brown said.
The suspects made one or two trips a month, transporting 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of product each trip to its markets.
“They placed orders that included one for 900 pounds of poached white-tailed deer and another for 500 pounds of illegal snook,” Brown said.
To date, the operation has identified 21 suspects. The criminal charges include 147 misdemeanor violations and 75 felony violations. Ten suspects were arrested and taken to local county jails today; the rest were issued notices to appear.
Undercover officers successfully infiltrated the illegal operations and were able to gather sufficient evidence of the crimes. The species involved include grouper, snapper, trout, redfish, snook, bass, bream, catfish, deer, turkey, ducks and alligator.
“Some of those are restricted species,” Brown said. “Over-harvesting, taking them out of season or taking them by illegal methods harms the resource, undermining conservation efforts.”
The FWC says shutting down illegal operations like this is also important for public health. When game is harvested and sold illegally, it does not go through the same processes or undergo the same food health inspections necessary to protect the public.
“The public has a right to purchase safe, legally harvested products without concern for the safety of their food,” Brown said.
Shutting down this operation also benefits the local economy. Illegal activities can seriously impact legal businesses.
“For example, there are deer farmers and commercial fishermen who harvest and sell their products legally,” Brown said. “Individuals who operate illegally often sell their products cheaper, essentially stealing profits from the law-abiding businesses.”
In addition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the FWC worked with partner organizations including the National Wild Turkey Federation, Humane Society of the United States and Ducks Unlimited.
“This was a great team effort to support our legal commercial markets, protect Florida’s valuable natural resources and allow the public to safely enjoy them,” Brown said.
The public can help by reporting to the FWC suspected violations of illegally harvesting or selling fish and wildlife. To make a report, call the Wildlife Alert hotline (888) 404-FWCC or
October 11, 2012
Re: Gulf of Mexico Gag Grouper Management
We understand that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has asked for the input of the Commission on the management of gag grouper in the Gulf. We view this as a long overdue concession in light of the vast majority of gags being landed from the Gulf of Mexico waters are landed on Florida shores, and an effective way to avoid any inconsistency between state and federal regulations. We would like to share with you our views on the ongoing management of gags in the Gulf.
Perhaps the biggest issue we have had with the management of gags to date (as well as certain other species) has been the lack of an allocation between sectors that is not only fair but also provides the greatest benefit to our state and the nation. All analyses of the relative economic impacts of the recreational and commercial sectors for gags have overwhelmingly shown the greatest impact to come from the recreational sector. We reject as patently unfair the idea that those who exploit a public resource for profit should be able to do so while the public realizes not even a reasonable season or reasonable size or bag limits. We thus urge the Commission to recommend that the Gulf Council promptly re-allocate the allowable catch of gag grouper fairly and to allow for the greatest benefit to our state and our nation before the 2013 management regulations are put in place.
A second problem that exists with the commercial take of gags in the Gulf is the lack of protection of the stock during its spawning aggregations. Like a number of animals, gags are known to be "harem breeders", meaning that a single dominant male attends to a number of females. These large males tend to be the most aggressive feeders during the spawning aggregations and often caught very early in the spawn, which leaves the spawning potential of the stock well below what it would be if no directed effort were permitted for the commercial sector during the spawn, as is the case with the recreational sector.
We also view the new release devices, such as the SeaQualizer, and techniques that have recently come to light as effective ways to reduce release mortality from the "baro-trauma" that often results in fish caught in deeper waters. The Gulf Council should immediately review the studies that have shown the effectiveness of these new devices and techniques and should permit their use unless concerns that we have not seen are shown to exist.
In terms of a bag limit and the open season for the recreational take of gags, CCA Florida urges the longest possible season and strongly advocates in favor of a no less than a 2 fish bag limit. Because reducing the bag limit to 1 fish will not significantly lengthen the season, we would very much like to see the bag limit stay at 2 fish. Although the split season proposals that we have seen would not provide as long an open season as the single season proposals that we have seen, we recognize that a split season may provide the greatest benefit to the most Floridians and our visitors and we are not opposed to a split season that includes equal summer and winter subseasons with the maximum number of allowable days.
We very much appreciate your service on the Commission and our relationship with you is very important to us. We hope that you will consider these comments in the spirit intended and that you will please contact us to discuss any questions or comments.
CONTACT: Trip Aukeman 850-559-0060
October 09, 2012
Coastal Conservation Association Urges
Judge to Uphold Mesh Size Limitation on Gill Nets
~Commercial netting interests attempt to convince the judge to allow larger mesh~
ST. MARKS, Fla. Commercial netting interests are once again trying to manipulate the State into allowing larger mesh sizes in fishing nets and improperly using them as gill nets, the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida said today.
The commercial fisherman say that as a result of the States regulations on net mesh size, the current nets are catching primarily juvenile fish before they have the chance to mature into adult fish.
The reality, however, is that these commercial fisherman are catching more mullet than they can sell. Earlier this year there was approximately 60,000 pounds of dead mullet found floating off Floridas coast with just the roe taken out. With the market price around 73 cents a pound it cannot withstand any more mullet in the stores or the price would plummet and there would be no profit.
In November 1994, an overwhelming 72 percent of Floridians voted yes on the constitutional amendment limiting marine net fishing. The amendment includes both a prohibition on the use of gill and entangling nets in all state waters and a size limit on other nets. Although the restrictions have been in place for 17 years, there are still factions within the commercial industry who refuse to accept the legal reality of the constitutional prohibition on gill nets.
Since 1994, there have been numerous lawsuits, attempts to create enforcement loopholes, and outright scams all designed to invalidate or circumvent provisions of the constitutional amendment. All have failed.
The commercial fishermen have gone to court again in an attempt to overturn key provisions in the 1994 net ban. Hoping to convince Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford of their side of the issue, a St. Marks commercial mullet fisherman took to the waters early one Friday morning to give the Judge a demonstration of the way they fish their nets. The commercial boat was followed by an FWC boat that was transporting Judge Fulford. However, he didnt show her the whole picture.
According to the Coastal Conservation Association, the fisherman spent unnecessary time searching in the St. Marks River inlets, creeks and bays to locate the perfectly sized fish to prove his point. When he found the right spot and cast the nets, he retrieved them like a gill net, instead of properly like a seine net, which caused more of the small fish to be caught in the net and very few legal size fish were caught. Only three net sets were made in about two and a half hours. This manipulated presentation to the judge depicted the idea that the nets are inadequate and the State needs to allow larger mesh netting.
The Florida Legislature, Florida courts and state agencies have upheld the clear intent of Florida voters, said Ted Forsgren, Special Advisor to CCA Florida. It is imperative that Judge Fulford thoroughly reviews all the previous legal decisions and conclusions of law and respect the citizen mandate and constitutional ban on gill nets.
Commercial net fishers have other legal options to catch mullet. Many use hand-thrown cast nets in conjunction with seine nets. The seine nets with two-inch or less mesh corral the fish, which are then caught by the cast nets. Cast nets are also used during fall migrations in rivers and bays when mullet are aggregated in large schools. Landings data confirms the viability of using cast nets and other legal nets. In the four-county area of Wakulla, Franklin, Jefferson and Dixie County commercial fishermen landed 493,614 pounds of mullet in 2011 and 579,027 pounds in 2010. Statewide more than 12.5 million pounds of mullet were landed in 2011.
For more information or to join CCA Florida, please visit CCA Floridas website at www.ccaflorida.org.