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Hialeah men arrested on charges of poaching 468 lobsters

Two Hialeah men have been arrested on charges of poaching 468 Florida spiny lobsters out of season, more than half of them undersized.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers arrested Javiel Vergel, 37, and Eriel Menendez Casana, 39, on Sunday night. They were slapped with a host of citations for misdemeanor fisheries violations including possession of lobsters out of season.

Vergel had a prior arrest for tampering with stone crab traps last year, according to Miami-Dade County court records. The charges were later dropped.

The FWC made the arrest after a call from another law enforcement agency about two men acting suspiciously while loading a boat on a trailer at the boat ramp on Watson Island near Jungle Island, said agency spokesman Jorge Pino. Wildlife officers found garbage bags full of wrung lobster tails stowed in numerous compartments in the boat.

During regular lobster season, which runs Aug. 6 to March 31, the legal limit for lobsters is six per person per day. De-heading lobsters before bringing them ashore is also illegal.

The catch included 283 undersized tails, an egg-bearing female lobster, an undersized stone crab claw and one queen conch — all illegal to possess in state waters.

Maj. Alfredo Escanio, Fish and Wildlife’s regional commander, credited strong relations between law enforcement agencies for exposing what he called a “serious violation.”

“The FWC will work to catch any individuals, like these, who purposely violate the rules and regulations in place to protect these precious resources,” he said in a statement.

FWC spokeswoman Carli Segelson said the tails were photographed for evidence then dumped into the ocean, where fish and crabs would eat them. They could not be saved or donated for human consumption because of potential health concerns about how they had been stored aboard the boat, she said.

Segelson said she could not estimate the maximum penalty but each second-degree misdemeanor conviction can result in a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.

Neither man could be reached for comment. State records show that in addition to the previous fisheries violation charge, Vergel’s criminal history includes arrests for solicitation for prostitution and cocaine possession.