Two commercial fishermen have been charged with a total of more than 1,300 conservation violations after being found inside a no-take zone in the Dry Tortugas, marine law-enforcement officers report.
Both men were cited last week for harvesting 664 yellowtail snapper — one misdemeanor count for each fish — seized from the commercial boat Candelaria, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Boat owner Evelio Lazar Egusquiza Fornes, 49, of Miami and mate Jorge Nesto Gellart, 49, also were charged with fishing inside the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, a no-fishing zone enacted under the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and other violations.
"The two occupants were actively harvesting yellowtail snapper by hook and line, and were very surprised to see us," FWC Lt. Josh Peters wrote in a report.
Signals from the boat's vessel monitoring system, a radio beacon required aboard commercial boats in some federal waters, showed the boat was stopped inside the no-take area, Peters reported. Officers patrolling the Dry Tortugas responded and located the Candelaria in the northern reserve.
"A chum bag, lines and baited hooks were in the water," Peters said. "An inspection of the vessel's catch revealed some of the yellowtail were still alive and fighting for life."
The Tortugas reserves were established to protect the area's marine ecosystem from effects of harvesting marine life, including fish. Commercial boats can navigate through the zones but cannot stop if they have fish aboard.
The 781 pounds of confiscated yellowtail was sold for $2,558, which will be held in escrow until the case is decided.
"We see occasional cases from the Tortugas but this is one of the bigger ones," said FWC Officer Bobby Dube, an agency spokesman.