4 Florida men arrested for stone crab fishing violations
Authorities collected more than 525 lockers, all belonging to the captain of the boat.
HERNANDO BEACH, Fla. — Four people aboard a stone crab fishing boat in a closed area were arrested this month, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported.
On Tuesday, April 5, FWC officers aboard a patrol boat and an aviation unit noticed a stone crab vessel in Closed Area 2 in Big Bend Stone Crab Closed Areas – shrimp. Authorities said they saw the boat circling the area to retrieve their traps from the bottom, actively fishing for their traps in an enclosed area.
“When the crew of the vessel ‘Nauti Crab’ noticed our patrol vessel heading towards them, the crew dropped all stone crab gear to the bottom,” Lt. Scott Smith said. “The captain said they had broken down and had just repaired their ship. They insisted that they had not fished in that area.
However, FWC officers saw that all crew members were wearing slickers, which is common when working in stone crab pots.
“They were using a long line gear setup, with 60 to 80 traps all connected in a single line underwater and invisible to the eye,” Smith said. “Each line should be marked with a buoy; however, not a single line that we have located has been marked.”
Officers documented the evidence and tracked the Nauti Crab vessel to its home port of Hernando Beach where authorities seized the boat’s GPS units along with drugs and paraphernalia for evidence.
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Using GPS coordinates, FWC officers were able to track the direction of where the crew was working. Dragging a grappling hook behind the patrol vessel, officers found 57 stone crab pots. Officers continued to discover traps in the closed area and discovered over 525 traps, all belonging to the same ship.
André Bertine, 54, from Lecanto; Scott Lefke, 53, of Homosassa; Matthew Bransfield, 40, of Citrus Springs; and George Boynton, 48, of Homosassa were each arrested and transported to Citrus County Jail.
They were charged with 10 misdemeanors and two felonies of possession of undersized stone crab claws, possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia and failure to display aerial stone crab or buoy numbers.
Under regulations, a stone crab fisherman can take a daily catch limit of 1 gallon of claws per person or 2 gallons per vessel, whichever is lower. Each ship can also use up to five stone crab traps per person.
Minimum claw size is 2 7/8 inches. The recreational and commercial stone crab harvesting season remains open until May 1.
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