The price to pay for spearing 320 spiny lobsters was a trip to jail Sunday — and hundreds of charges for seven out-of-state men.
The men, who were pulled over in a rented boat on the oceanside of the Vaca Cut Bridge around 4:30 p.m. by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers, also had four out-of-season stone crab claws and eight fish fillets on the boat, according to FWC spokesman Officer Bobby Dube.
Officers Alex Piekenbrock and Jefferson Carroll stopped the boat to do a resource inspection, Dube said. On board were Leon Reeves, 48; Robinson Reeves, 19; and Jeffrey Honnell, 45, all of Pheonix City, Ala.; Jeffrey Barket, 44, of Rome, Ga.; and David Gilmore, 55; Francis Bartkiewicz, 57; and Kyle Bartkiewicz, 23, all of Eufaula, Ala.
On the boat was a bag containing 137 out-of-season wrung spiny lobster tails — 117 of which were undersized — the stone crab claws and fish, Dube said.
The seven admitted to spearing the lobster, Dube said (it’s illegal to spear lobster), and a search of the house the men were renting nearby turned up another 183 out-of-season spiny lobster tails or parts, 109 of them undersized. According to Dube’s report, another stone crab claw was found along with an undersized black grouper carcass the men admitted to taking the day before.
Dube told the Keynoter the men had rented the house and boat for a week but could not say how long they’d been in town. He said the lobster were taken from shallow waters and killed with spear guns by the men who were free diving.
“It probably didn’t take them that long,” he said, adding that it is unknown what the lobster would be used for, whether for a party or to sell.
All of the equipment the men had was seized along with the lobster for court purposes, he said. The fish, one identified as an out-of-season black grouper, will be sent off to a lab to be identified, he said.
After being transported to the jail on Stock Island, each man received the same charges: Two felonies for having more than 100 undersized lobster; 586 misdemeanor counts for out-of-season lobster and wrung tails; and 14 misdemeanor counts for the lobster, stone crab and reef fish “not in whole condition.” The driver of the boat, David Gilmore, was handed an additional misdemeanor for the black grouper.
“It’s a shame that two weeks in a row we’ve had out-of-county residents come down and violate our wildlife and resource laws and take from Keys waters,” Dube said.
Last week, three endangered Key deer were reportedly captured on Big Pine Key by two mainland men; one of the deer having to be euthanized because of its injuries. A Pembroke Pines man was also arrested for allegedly spearing 15 undersized lobsters in Islamorada.
“Unfortunately, these individuals chose to take advantage of our valuable saltwater resources that we are so proud of in the Keys,” said FWC Regional Commander Maj. Alfredo Escanio of Sunday’s arrest. “They are also stealing from law-abiding residents and visitors who are looking forward to taking lobster during the two-day sport season later this month.”
Regular lobster season opens Aug. 6, while the two-day lobster mini season is July 26 and July 27. In Monroe County, the bag limit is six lobster per person per day during the two-day mini season and regular season. Stone crabs are legal to harvest from Oct. 15 to May 15.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219