Florida Keys

She said she didn’t know it was illegal to take conchs. She’s heading to jail anyway.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer John Martino holds 40 queen conchs seized from a woman in Key West charged with illegally harvesting them in July 2017.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer John Martino holds 40 queen conchs seized from a woman in Key West charged with illegally harvesting them in July 2017. FWC

A Texas woman will spend 15 days in jail as punishment for taking 40 queen conchs from the waters that surround Key West with a plan to clean them and give the shells away as gifts.

Diana Fiscal-Gonzalez, 30, of Dallas, pleaded no contest July 13 at the Monroe County Courthouse to taking the conchs. She apologized to Judge Mark Wilson, saying she didn’t know it was illegal to take the state-protected mollusks.

She had plucked the conchs from the sea with the help of several children.

Fiscal-Gonzalez received credit for one day of time served.

Wilson cut her a break by withholding adjudication, which means she won’t have a criminal conviction on her record.

Fiscal-Gonzalez will also serve six months of probation and pay a $500 fine plus $268 for court costs.

An officer from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission arrested Fiscal-Gonzalez on July 13, 2017, at 1216 Watson St. in Key West after an anonymous tipster called the agency about it.

FWC Officer John Martino said when he got to the house he saw a woman in plain view with three plastic containers and a water hose in the driveway. The conchs were in the containers.

After photographing the conchs, Martino returned them to the water. Most were still alive, FWC said.

The conch is a beloved symbol in Key West, with natives of the island calling themselves “conchs,” and the local high school has the mollusk as a mascot.

Fiscal-Gonzalez must report to court on Aug. 10 to begin her jail sentence.

A team of researchers from Chicago's Shedd Aquarium set sail from Miami this month on a research effort with the Bahamian government to find better ways to protect and manage the nation's dwindling conchs.

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